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N.Y.C. Approves Plan for Uniforms in Early Grades

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The New York City school board voted unanimously last week to require school uniforms in the elementary grades.

Already, 229 of the city's elementary schools use uniforms voluntarily. When the new measure takes effect in September 1999, it will cover more than 500,000 of the district's 1.1 million students and 670 schools with students in kindergarten through grades 6 or 8.

"The policy creates a better educational climate," said school board President William C. Thompson Jr., who proposed the measure. It won almost immediate support from Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and later an endorsement from Schools Chancellor Rudy F. Crew.

The move by the nation's largest school district boosts a trend that has already left a mark on urban systems and shows signs of widespread popularity. As in other districts, New York City officials regard uniforms as a way of bringing greater discipline, unity, and seriousness of purpose to schools, though there is little research to date supporting such claims. ("Majority of Dade Schools Back Uniforms for Students," April 30, 1997.)

The measure allows both schools and individual students to opt out of the uniform policy. School committees of teachers, administrators, and parents can vote against requiring uniforms. Parents can exempt their youngsters by making a written request and then meeting with an administrator, though schools retain the right to set "appropriate" dress standards.

Weaker Measure

The style and color of the uniforms will be decided by schools, and parents who can't afford the attire will receive financial help from local district offices.

The measure is weaker than the one Mr. Thompson first sought--a bow to objections from some board members, parents, and civil libertarians. In the policy's original version, there were no exemptions for individual students except for health or religious reasons, and sanctions for those violating the policy included suspension from after-school activities. The harshest sanction in the policy passed last week is a reprimand from a principal or an assistant principal.

In a survey released last week of heads of public elementary and middle schools in 10 states, the National Association of Elementary School Principals found that 11 percent of the 958 principals who responded required uniforms and 15 percent were considering such a policy. Almost two-thirds of the schools with policies had adopted them within the past two years, the survey found.

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