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Published in Print: November 24, 1999, as N.Y.C. Joins Growing List Of Districts Dressing the Same

N.Y.C. Joins Growing List Of Districts Dressing the Same

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Uniforms are growing on America's public school children.

One of the latest cases in point is the nation's largest district, where a whopping 72 percent of New York City's 675 elementary schools have adopted a standardized dress code. More than 565,000 students in kindergarten through grades 6 or 8, depending on how high the school goes, will be affected by the change in apparel.

The city's board of education approved a measure last year that required primary and elementary schools to implementa a uniform policy or opt out of the plan by the beginning of this month. ("N.Y.C. Approves Plan for Uniforms in Early Grades," March 25, 1998.)

The measure, which took effect in September, allows schools and individual students, at their parents' request, to forgo standardized outfits.

"The policy came out of listening to parents," said William C. Thompson Jr., the president of the board of education. The policy "helps in creating more structure," he said.

New York joins a growing number of school systems that have established school uniform policies, particularly in the elementary grades, in the hope of improving discipline and fostering more orderly learning environments.

In a survey conducted last year by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, 11 percent of elementary and middle school students in 10 states attended a public school where uniforms were being worn. Another 15 percent, in those same states, attended schools that were considering adopted uniforms.

Businesslike Attitudes

While New York is among those districts whose rules permit schools and parents to opt out, an increasing number of districts are making their standardized dress codes mandatory. Districts in Alabama and Louisiana, along with systems in Dade and Polk counties, Fla.; Long Beach, Calif.; and San Antonio require uniforms.

A federal judge in Shreveport, La., threw out a lawsuit earlier this month that had challenged a mandatory-uniform policy in the Bossier Parish schools. The lawsuit had argued that the policy was unconstitutional.

In 1997, Louisiana mandated that schools have a dress code that could include a uniform policy. When the district in Bossier Parish, which borders Arkansas, implemented such a policy last school year, 16 of the 34 schools elected to require uniforms. All schools ordered students to wear uniforms this school year. Forty parents brought suit in May.

U.S. District Judge Donald Walter refused to grant the parents' initial request for an injunction at the beginning of this school year. At that time, he said, the district's uniform policy did not violate students' freedom of speech.

"Uniforms have had a positive impact on the system," said Ken Kruithof, an assistant superintendent of the 18,700-student Shreveport system. "Kids' attitudes are more businesslike, and the learning environment is as positive as it can be," he said.

State Plan Considered

Lawmakers in Kansas are looking at the possibility of making each district adopt a dress code.

Senate Majority Leader Tim Emert prefiled a bill for the legislature's upcoming session that would require them to do so. Now, however, Mr. Emert, a Republican, is reconsidering his bill. Instead, he would exempt students whose parents object on religious or philosophical grounds and add an amendment requiring districts to hold public hearings to determine whether they want to go to uniforms.

"The amendment is a softening of the bill, but it will get people talking about the issue," said Rob Mealy, a legislative assistant to Sen. Emert.

Other Kansas legislative leaders, meanwhile, have focused on the idea of compulsory- uniform policies. Senate President Dick Bond, also a Republican, has drafted a plan that includes Mr. Emert's original idea of a prescribed dress code for districts.

Like many proponents, Sen. Bond believes the apparel would be beneficial to students. "Uniforms foster a safe and disciplined learning environment," he said.

Vol. 19, Issue 13, Page 6

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