Originally created 08/07/03

Deal with dress code



Opponents try to paint it as some form of child abuse. But even Bill Clinton - not the most conservative president of the past quarter-century - touted the use of school uniforms.

Certainly his endorsement didn't hurt the movement. In 1997, only 3 percent of all public schools required uniforms. But in a survey of principals in 2000, one in five reported school uniform policies.

And for good reason: 84 percent of the principals reported improvement in school image; 79 percent reported better classroom discipline; and 76 percent described improvements in peer pressure and 72 percent saw heightened school spirit.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals, while taking no official position on uniforms, does list arguments for and against. Among the pros - besides the above - are beliefs that violence and gang influences are reduced; that school safety and attendance are enhanced; and that economic disparities among students are de-emphasized.

Critics say uniforms have no bearing on discipline and violence - though school officials clearly say otherwise (see above). The best arguments that opponents try to use against uniforms is an alleged violation of a student's right to free expression and what the school principals' organization calls "an undesirable lesson about individuality and making choices based on internal values."

Aaaagh! What gobbledygook!

The fact is, school uniforms are a message to students that learning is important - and that playtime is over. It's a statement that how you dress does matter. And it helps prepare students for the workaday world, where professionalism, decorum and dress will affect how much they earn for a living.

Uniforms are not a panacea. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Education recommends they be just part of a comprehensive safety program including truancy reduction, drug prevention, gang elimination, zero tolerance for weapons, and character education and conflict resolution programs.

Moreover, uniforms may not be necessary to enjoy all the above benefits. Strict dress codes - which allow more flexibility - can still moderate student clothing, but less dogmatically than uniforms.

Regardless, there is much to recommend uniforms - including saving money: USA Today compared costs in 1998, and learned that uniforms averaged $104 per student while non-uniform clothes averaged $185.

And if you're going to have a uniform policy or strict dress code, it's silly to let students opt out, as Richmond County has done - until this year. Starting with the first bell Tuesday, students will have to adhere to the district's dress code - which, notably, has been expanded to include blue jeans.

Spare us the whining, please. Dress codes and uniform policies are clearly good for kids, cheaper for families and safer for schools. Besides, no dress code that includes blue jeans is going to be found to be cruel and unusual punishment.

We know it's customary in America today for everyone to throw a tantrum and not go along, or even to go to court, when he or she doesn't get his way in every situation all of the time. Frankly, that stuff has to cease.

Your elected school board has decided to enforce the dress code - finally, and with plenty of good thinking to back it up.

Deal with it.