Collared students

As more schools require school uniforms, more parents are objecting, reports USA Today.

Parents Laura and Scott Bell filed suit over an Anderson, Ind., uniform plan that will begin when students return to school Aug. 20.

. . . The Anderson policy requires black, navy or khaki pants or skirts and a solid-color shirt with a collar.

“As a parent, we felt our rights were being violated,” says Laura Bell. They have five children, ages 5 to 17.

The Bells’ suit makes two claims: that the uniform requirement violates their children’s constitutional right of free expression and that it violates the guarantee of a free public education. The Bells would have to pay $641 for five sets of pants and shirts required by the policy, Laura Bell says.

The Bells’ suit was thrown out of court. The local teachers union and a local community foundation have donated $112,000 to buy shirts and pants or skirts for all students poor enough to qualify for a subsidized lunch. Donors say the outfit costs $15 at discount stores, which would mean the five Bell kids could have three sets of suitable clothing apiece for $225.

The cost issue is a non-starter. Even low-income parents have to clothe their children: It doesn’t cost that much more to buy a solid-color shirt with a collar. Uniforms tend to be just as cheap as conventional clothes and more convenient.

I think uniforms provide a modest educational benefit: Schools find it somewhat easier to create a sense of community and much easier to proscribe inappropriate T-shirt slogans, provocative clothing and gang styles. Kids don’t turn into drones because they’re all wearing polo shirts. Of course, collars don’t turn them into scholars either.

Nationwide, about one in four elementary schools and one in eight middle schools requires some form of uniform.

About Joanne


  1. It always amazes me that people who have no problem with laws that require children to attend particular schools, for a proscribed number of years, and to pass certain tests to graduate, get worked up about uniform requirements. Hey, if the public school system thinks uniforms will make their job easier, how is that any different from busing, or testing, or homework requirements?

  2. Robert Wright says:

    The school where I teach has a uniform policy and I don’t like it at all.

    But the fact is, in schools where there are uniforms, there is less of a discipline problem.

  3. I have to admit being a strong advocate for student expression; however, I would not fight a uniform policy.

    My high school, while I attended it, considered having a school t-shirt or polo shirt and blue jeans be the uniform since most kids already dress similarly. Parents stopped that one dead. It was an interesting thought though.

  4. ucladavid says:

    At the middle school I teach at, the policy is collared polo shirt and khaki shorts or pants. Behavior problems have lessened since we adapted the policy. 99% of the parents have no problem with it. 1% request waivers. We allow jeans on fridays only.

    The problems are when we allow “free” dress like sports day, nerd day or red, white and blue day. Many students follow the free dress policy, but many do not. If we send those kids up to change, then the dean would do nothing else but that and have 3-400 students in her office.

  5. Deirdre Mundy says:

    When I taught at a school with uniforms, the kids spent SO much time trying to get around the uniform (untucking shirts, rolling cuffs, etc.) that they didn’t seem to have much energy left to think of OTHER mischief. =)

    (The Uniform was Khakis and an official school polo shirt…)

    Also, if uniforms violate the “free public education” principle, what about “Textbook rental fees”, “Recess fees”, “Activity fees” and “technology fees”?

    The school system we currently live in has all of these, so kids pay about $500/yr to go to public school…..

    (Another reason to homeschool — we can definitely do a GREAT job for under 1000 a year……)

  6. An important difference to look at is school-wide adoption versus district-wide adoption. When a uniform policy is adopted at a school-level there’s usually more buy-in by everyone first and it’s actually trying to solve a specific problem at that particular school. District-wide adoptions are more likely to be a sweeping political gesture. If some schools are “uniform” schools and others aren’t, parents can go beyond a waiver and just transfer to the schools of their liking.

    Another point is that this is not just a question of student rights, but family rights. When the school district dictates a uniform policy, they are telling me as a parent what to do, not just my child. That’s certainly worth doing at some level (like make your kid go to school), but let’s be clear about who is being affected these things.

    Also, I’d be interested to know if the people who are posting that there schools are safer after uniform adoptions have any actual numbers (referrals, suspensions, and expulsions) to reinforce this.

  7. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I must confess to the dirty old man attraction to the parochial school uniform – for girls of course.

  8. David L. Brunsma is one of, if not the, leading scholars in terms of actual research on school uniforms. His work, and his metanalysis of other research failed to conclude that uniforms have any statistically significant positive effect on academic performance or discipline. His work found a statistically significant finding that was negative with respect to uniforms and reading, but the effect size was small. The debate on uniforms seems to be largely driven by anecdote and personal bias.

  9. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Mr. Cowens-

    Don’t teachers tell you what to do as a parent when they tell you to check your child’s homework, or suscribe to newspapers for current events or magazines so they have something to collage?

    It seems like the schools have ALWAYS been in the business of telling parents what to do……

  10. Miller Smith says:

    Students can wear signs on the back of their uniforms expressing their displeasure with the uniforms. Nope, I’m not kidding. A case of a student wearing a sign has already been ajudicated with the court finding that a sign taped to the back of a student’s shirt was allowed. Armbands allowed too.

    Uniforms must be worn by students so they can get used to the low level jobs that require uniforms.

  11. Richard Cook says:

    Miller you make no sense at all.

  12. As a parent of a school aged child who lives just north of Anderson, Indiana, I think it’s pathetic for other parents and/or teachers to oppose “uniforms”. They aren’t even requiring uniforms! It’s basically a dress code!

    “Uniforms must be worn by students so they can get used to the low level jobs that require uniforms.” – Miller Smith

    I disagree. Most professional offices I’ve been employed in have a dress code that you must follow to work there. Most of these kids wouldn’t get away with wearing what they wear to school in the business world. How many lawyers in the court room do you see dressed in t-shirts with ripped jeans that hang down around their hips? How many doctors or nurses do you see dressed like a street walker? What about police officers…is that a low level job that requires a uniform?

    Parents have to buy school clothes anyway…now they can save some money and dress their children in a more respectable way teaching them to dress for the real world. Can’t afford to shop at Walmart? They can try Goodwill. Isn’t that the point of school…to prepare them for the real world?

  13. Miller Smith says:

    Ann…and Richard,

    Does your professional office require a uniform? Not usually. A dress code yes, a uniform no…unless you are in a low paid swervice job like McDonald’s. Look at the jobs where the uniforms are-well-uniform. Best Buy, Taco Bell, the military and the like. Now look at high paying jobs where there is a dress code. Way different, eh?

    That is the real world Ann. We are teaching them and preparing them for low wage jobs. We are teaching them to be part of the herd. On the other hand, look at the professionals out there.

    You will see professionals following a general dress code but in their own unique style. Look at the lawyer Jerry Spence. He sure as heck isn’t wearing a uniform and he is definitely in the “real world.”

    We are constantly looking for a magic pill and uniforms are just the next thing that so many of us have become enamored. It is a control issue with us. Why do we feel the need to control the population this way?

  14. Army Colonels and Navy Captains wear uniforms. I think they make more money than most teachers. Professional orchestral musicians are told exactly what to wear in concert. Do actors get to decide what they wear in a video, play or film? Do runway models get to pick their outfits? Even though I question the need for uniforms in schools, I do not agree that uniforms in school prepare kids for menial jobs or even a passive adult role.

  15. Don’t professional team athletes wear uniforms?

  16. timfromtexas says:

    School uniforms do make a difference. They are inexpensive. Having each grade level wear a different colored shirt, makes it possible to quickly recognize same, which is very beneficial in large schools. They do help decrease and/or eliminate problems of all sorts.

    As to dress codes where there is just a dress code, but not uniforms, it’s the dress code for the boys that is most strictly enforced.

    As to self expression, most students don’t express themselves, oh one might express himself or herself by making his or her “coinslot” more visible than some others and so on. Heck. most kids are so programmed by tv, and music that they don’t even know what self expression is.

    As for parents who are against uniforms, I’ve experienced that they are usually the ones showing up at the schools for parent meetings with titties on the half shell and the like.

  17. Miller Smith says:

    Why do ya’all need to control other people at this level? Just what are you hoping for? Seriously, I’d really like to know why the govenrment of a free people has the NEED to control that free people all the way to having them wear uniforms?

    This is really sick.

  18. Uniforms must be worn by students so they can get used to the low level jobs that require uniforms.

    This strikes me as rather contradicted by their popularity at expensive private schools catering to the very rich.

  19. ucladavid says:

    One of the benefits of uniforms or a strong dress code is that the school knows who is supposed to be there or not. Many schools in my district have a significant gang problem and this helps prevent the people who shouldn’t be there from being there. It also helps when the kids walk home from school from wearing the “wrong” color.

  20. gbl3rd,

    I think you miss one point: all of your examples outside of education are not compulsory. Those people choose to be in those positions. Students have no such luxury in most cases. Besides, the line about preparing students for menial jobs sounded like (and I hope it was) thick sarcasm.

  21. Miller Smith says:

    You can control the entrances to your building by controlling the entrances to your building. It’s that simple. You don’t have to force people to wear costumes in order to exclude “outsiders.” You exclude outsiders by keeping them outside.

    Oh, and you must also wear an ID around your neck, with your picture, name, magnetic strip, and that ever ubiquitous barcode that belongs to you and only you. I have my own SKU. Is this how to treat children in a free country? Come on! This is so twisted! We are turning our children into a product for the comsumption of the classes that will be using the product they ordered. Yep. Packaged. Labled. And certified compliant. We even package them all special the day processing is finished.

    The government of a free people does not control the education of that people. That people won’t stay free if it does.

    Remember: Government is a Gun. It can, will, and does FORCE people to comply. That is if you can’t buy your way out with your parent’s money. Too bad the children of poor parents had poor parents.

    Why punish the children with FORCE because their parents can’t buy them out the system? Come on folks, this is truely ill.

  22. “Come on folks” this is truly “not” ill.

    Maybe, just maybe, children will learn that one of the more important aspects of schooling is -gasp!- NOT what they wear, but what they learn.

    And, horrors, they might even consider that adults — ADULTS, thankyouverymuch– might have a bit more experience and wisdom (of which, if said children had ever learned to value the consumption) would accrue to their individual benefit.

    What? We (by uniforms) are “turning our children into a product for the consumption of the classes”? Excuse me?!! Have you ever heard of advertising? Could it possibly BE that that “dreaded word” uniform might possibly RELEASE them from a life as “a product for consumption”? (Do you need examples? Is it better that they covet over-priced sneakers/t-shirts/purses/etc.? Are they therefore expressing their “individuality” by conforming to Madison-Avenue-driven retail ware? Gang identification?)

  23. ucladavid says:

    Miller, you wrote, “You can control the entrances to your building by controlling the entrances to your building. It’s that simple. You don’t have to force people to wear costumes in order to exclude “outsiders.” You exclude outsiders by keeping them outside.”

    You can’t be serious. So many students and non-students hop the fences, which is not that difficult to do at many schools. Also, there have been incidents in my local district (Los Angeles Unified) where people who should not be there come to the school for non-school related reasons. We can easily stop them at the entrances by noticing that they are not wearing the right clothing. If there is also an incident at the school like at lunch and need to find out who should be there quickly, a student not in dress code would be easy to spot.

  24. Miller Smith says:

    UFB. A gang member may hop the fence soooooo…we put the kids in uniforms to protect them against the bullets that gangster fires at them. Uh…nooo…if you truely-and I mean TRUELY- have a fear of a gang member jumping a fence the response you have IS NOT to dress all the kids alike! My god man, you put a person at the fence to monitor it and, if need be, that person can repel the gangster and call for back-up.

    Are you using some kind of magic uniform? How will that uniform keep a gangster from jumping a fence? Are you serious?

    You are waiting for an incident in the lunch room BEFORE you ID who belongs? I would love to be THAT lawyer at deposition!

    Oh, and cj, by what right does the government of a free people make the gun-to-the-face decisions for that free people that you suggested? WHy do you so want to control the population? What’s Up With That?

  25. Catch Thirty-Thr33 says:

    The only thing a school uniform would have done for me back in my time would be to cause me to hate the school even more than I already did.

    Really, it is too much to ask the schools to be worried about what they are TEACHING THE CHILDREN rather than how they dress for school?

  26. One- most schools in my area that have school uniforms simply have a more specific dress code. They specify a color and type of shirt (usually polo), pants/skirt, and shoes. Students still have plenty of ways to personalize their wardrobe.

    Two- The security argument (easy identification of students) is a valid one. Schools are not designed or manned to be prison facilities, even those in the cities. There is not enough manpower or security features to oversee every possible entrance to school grounds.

    Three- dress codes do reduce distraction in the classroom (largely for boys). I can see when Johnny in the back row is trying to peek down the low-cut pants of the girl in front of him or Mark is constantly turning around to peek down the spaghetti strap top of another girl.

    Four- Uniforms or dress codes are in no way demeaning. On the contrary, uniforms are usually associated with the noblest of professions (military, police, fire) and dress codes are associated with employment at every level.

    Most, if not all, schools have some sort of dress code, but they can be difficult to enforce when they allow for a variety of clothes. I have seen codes that specify strap width for girls’ tops, length from the knee for skirts and shorts, descriptions of numerous gang associated clothing and accessories, and pages of unacceptable terms on any form of clothing. Liberal dress code policies such as these become hassles for teachers to enforce and bog down administrators as they deal with violators. Stricter dress codes, if nothing else, reduces the variables in student dress and frees faculty and staff to do what they’re supposed to do.

  27. DrPezz

    If you want to be an actor, athlete or musician they are compulsory. You have to give the audience and the management what it wants.


    Uniformed athletes are idolized by many of our children and these same athletes also exhibit antisocial behavior.

  28. The inner city school where I taught required uniforms, and I was very glad that it did.

    We had gang problems, and uniforms cut down on the “showing of colors” issue. It also helped “some” with the showing of flesh problems (sagging for guys and low cut tops for girls).

    In comparison, summer school did not require uniforms. Every day there were kids who made poor clothing choices. Often, the choices were made in order to try to get out of class.

  29. gbl3rd-
    Not too sure what the purpose of your antisocial comment was, but remember that the antisocial behavior is limited and not widespread.

  30. SuperSub

    Requiring uniforms does not inoculate rich and pampered professional athletes from engaging in anti social and criminal behavior. I am no longer sure it is rare, just under reported. Allegedly the media and the authorities have different standards of conduct for professional athletes.

  31. gbl3rd-
    Gotcha now… thanks. I don’t think that anyone here is claiming that uniforms will magically change the attitude of problem students – just that it will be easier for faculty and administration to enforce the rules and to prevent disputes based upon clothing.

    As for the athletes… remember that there are numerous players who live in the shadows of the “stars”… and that if you consider the athletic community as a whole, the problem players seem to be concentrated in just a few sports.