School Dress Codes Can Be A Blueprint for Success

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When your child begins attending school for the first time, it is always a very exciting time. As a parent, you will want to consider numerous factors when deciding what will be the best educational environment for your child. Whether you choose a private or public school is often determined by affordability, personal preference, religious beliefs or a combination of these.

In light of this, what your child will be wearing to school will most likely be defined by school policy. Most private and parochial schools in San Antonio do require uniforms, and some public schools also have this requirement. The majority of schools who use uniforms implement them in the elementary and middle school grades.

Many districts in San Antonio recognize that parents bear the primary responsibility for setting standards for their children’s dress and grooming. Although there are some variations among school districts, a good rule of thumb is that student dress and grooming should not be indecent, suggestive or offensive.

The basic dress code followed by most schools in San Antonio consists of full length or capri pants and shirts with collars. Shorts and skorts may be worn at the elementary level, but grades three through five usually have specific lengths. Shorts and skorts are prohibited in grades six through 12. Tank tops are only available in certain districts provided that they are a certain width at the shoulder.

Some prohibited items include suggestive or indecent clothing, torn or tight garments, body piercings (except ears), sunglasses, grills, heavy chains or spiked jewelry, glitter or bandanas. Accessories that are not allowed include anything that illustrates gang affiliations, sex, the occult, violence, death, alcohol, suicide or drugs.

School uniforms have traditionally been favored by private and parochial institutions since the 1900s, but have been adopted by U.S. public schools in ever-increasing numbers. In the 1980s, schools in Washington D.C. and Maryland began introducing uniforms on a voluntary basis.

The history of mandatory school uniforms in U.S. public schools began in January 1994. At that time, a school district in Long Beach, California implemented a uniform policy that required all K-8 students to wear them. Although research studies regarding uniform implementation offer varying statistics, what has been revealed seems to be largely on the positive side.

In San Antonio, some public school districts make the uniform option available in selected schools. All schools in the San Antonio Independent School District require uniforms to be worn by students. Edgewood Independent School District requires uniforms for all elementary and middle school students. Basic white long and short-sleeved blouses and shirts with collars can be worn with khaki and/or navy trousers, capri pants, shorts, skirts, skorts and jumpers.

Northside Independent School District and Northeast Independent School District have several elementary and middle schools that have elected to have uniforms as a requirement. Wardrobe choices include polo shirts in various specified colors. These are paired with khaki, black or navy pants, walking shorts, skirts or jumpers. Relaxed-fit blue jeans are also allowed at some campuses.

As specific uniform requirements may change from year to year, it is best to check with your school district for particular uniform guidelines. It should also be noted that the Texas Education Agency has allowed for parents/guardians to opt out of the uniform policy based on religious reasons or philosophical objections by applying for a waiver.

Although the jury is still out on whether violence decreases at every school as a result of wearing uniforms, most teachers and administrators seem to agree that uniforms allow for more focus on learning. Schools report less: aggression, property damage and discipline problems among students. Moreover, uniforms seem to foster an attitude of teamwork, pride and respect in the classroom.

The conflicting research available attempting to assess the effectiveness of school uniforms can be explained in part because so many variables are involved. For example, educational trends, disciplinary policies and quality of teachers can skew numbers that support academic performance based on uniforms. Parents may also choose to move their children in or out of schools based on whether or not uniforms are required, which can affect research study findings.

In addition, success stories may involve a range of positive or negative impacts based on gender and grade levels. Generally, attendance seems to become more consistent after allowing one to two years for adjustment after the initial introduction of uniforms.

Although improvements seem to have a more immediate impact among middle and high school girls after the introduction of uniforms, both boys and girls in these age groups show progress after the adjustment period. Uniforms do appear to improve language scores among middle and high school girls. Advanced math scores seem to be more evident after two or more years of uniform adoption.

One of the primary reasons cited for implementing a uniform policy is to decrease distractions in the classroom. Most parents are all too aware of how children compare themselves to other students and worry about fitting in with their peers. This competitive peer pressure is greatly reduced with the use of uniforms.

Uniforms provide a more level social footing for students who are often judged by other students based on their appearance. For some families, the expense of constantly updating wardrobes with the latest fashions is not an option. Economic differences can cause division among students that is more readily apparent when children wear regular street clothing.

The important social issue of bullying has gained prominence in recent years. Uniforms are often cited as an effective tool in the fight against bullying, since children are often targeted based on their appearance.

Although bullying based on clothing or appearance cannot be completely eliminated, uniforms can go a long way towards curtailing this kind of negative behavior. Wearing a uniform can dramatically improve self-esteem and lessen feelings of inferiority among children.

Economically, although the initial expense for uniforms may seem high, the overall cost is fairly low when compared to average year-round clothing expenses incurred by parents. However, some school districts do have special funding and subsidies available for those families in need of assistance with purchasing uniforms for their children.

Another advantage is that dressing for school becomes a much faster process with uniforms, especially for adolescent girls. Fewer decisions during morning preparations take less time and prompt attendance is more likely.

Although it is challenging to get a definitive consensus regarding the impact of school uniforms, several proponents maintain that the most promising consequences may be the development of non-cognitive skills such as discipline, motivation, school engagement, leadership and self-esteem. Recent research has indicated that these areas may be just as critical as academic skills in helping students achieve future social and employment success.

Opponents of school uniforms have concerns regarding the stifling of individuality and creativity among students who wear uniforms. Although it seems to be a matter of perspective, they also maintain that not wearing uniforms allows students to develop decision-making skills and learn to make responsible life choices.

In any case, a uniform policy may have significant benefits, some of which are more apparent than others. If you are a parent considering schools for your children, these are key factors to consider while making your decision.

Yvonne Vasquez is a San Antonio based freelance writer.

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