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Manual on School Uniforms
Manual on School Uniforms
School Uniforms: Where They Are and Why They Work
A safe and disciplined learning environment is the first requirement of a good school. Young
people who are safe and secure, who learn basic American values and the essentials of good
citizenship, are better students. In response to growing levels of violence in our schools, many
parents, teachers, and school officials have come to see school uniforms as one positive and creative
way to reduce discipline problems and increase school safety.
They observed that the adoption of school uniform policies can promote school safety,
improve discipline, and enhance the learning environment. The potential benefits of school uniforms
- decreasing violence and theft -- even life-threatening situations -- among students over
designer clothing or expensive sneakers;
- helping prevent gang members from wearing gang colors and insignia at school;
- instilling students with discipline;
- helping parents and students resist peer pressure;
- helping students concentrate on their school work; and
- helping school officials recognize intruders who come to the school.
As a result, many local communities are deciding to adopt school uniform policies as part
of an overall program to improve school safety and discipline. California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana,
Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia have enacted school uniform
regulations. Many large public school systems -- including Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dayton, Detroit,
Los Angeles, Long Beach, Miami, Memphis, Milwaukee, Nashville, New Orleans, Phoenix, Seattle
and St. Louis -- have schools with either voluntary or mandatory uniform policies, mostly in
elementary and middle schools. In addition, many private and parochial schools have required
uniforms for a number of years. Still other schools have implemented dress codes to encourage a
safe environment by, for example, prohibiting clothes with certain language or gang colors.
Users' Guide to Adopting a School Uniform Policy
The decision whether to adopt a uniform policy is made by states, local school districts, and
schools. For uniforms to be a success, as with all other school initiatives, parents must be involved.
The following information is provided to assist parents, teachers, and school leaders in determining
whether to adopt a school uniform policy.
- Get parents involved from the beginning
Parental support of a uniform policy is critical for success. Indeed, the strongest push for
school uniforms in recent years has come from parent groups who want better discipline in their
children's schools. Parent groups have actively lobbied schools to create uniform policies and have
often led school task forces that have drawn up uniform guidelines. Many schools that have
successfully created a uniform policy survey parents first to gauge support for school uniform
requirements and then seek parental input in designing the uniform. Parent support is also essential
in encouraging students to wear the uniform.
- Protect students' religious expression
A school uniform policy must accommodate students whose religious beliefs are
substantially burdened by a uniform requirement. As U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley
stated in Religious Expression in Public Schools, a guide he sent to superintendents throughout the nation on August 10, 1995:
Students may display religious messages on items of clothing to the same extent that they are permitted to display other comparable messages. Religious messages may not be singled
out for suppression, but rather are subject to the same rules as generally apply to comparable
messages. When wearing particular attire, such as yarmulkes and head scarves, during the
school day is part of students' religious practice, under the Religious Freedom Restoration
Act schools generally may not prohibit the wearing of such items.
- Protect students' other rights of expression
A uniform policy may not prohibit students from wearing or displaying expressive items --
for example, a button that supports a political candidate - so long as such items do not independently
contribute to disruption by substantially interfering with discipline or with the rights of others. Thus,
for example, a uniform policy may prohibit students from wearing a button bearing a gang insignia.
A uniform policy may also prohibit items that undermine the integrity of the uniform,
notwithstanding their expressive nature, such as a sweatshirt that bears a political message but also
covers or replaces the type of shirt required by the uniform policy.
- Determine whether to have a voluntary or mandatory school uniform policy
Some schools have adopted wholly voluntary school uniform policies which permit students
freely to choose whether and under what circumstances they will wear the school uniform.
Alternatively, some schools have determined that it is both warranted and more effective to adopt
a mandatory uniform policy.
- When a mandatory school uniform policy is adopted, determine whether to have an "opt out" provision
In most cases, school districts with mandatory policies allow students, normally with parental
consent, to "opt out" of the school uniform requirements.
Some schools have determined, however, that a mandatory policy with no "opt out" provision
is necessary to address a disruptive atmosphere. A Phoenix, Arizona school, for example, adopted
a mandatory policy requiring students to wear school uniforms, or in the alternative attend another
public school. That Phoenix school uniform policy was recently upheld by a state trial court in
Arizona. Note that in the absence of a finding that disruption of the learning environment has
reached a point that other lesser measures have been or would be ineffective, a mandatory school
uniform policy without an "opt out" provision could be vulnerable to legal challenge.
- Do not require students to wear a message
Schools should not impose a form of expression on students by requiring them to wear
uniforms bearing a substantive message, such as a political message.
- Assist families that need financial help
In many cases, school uniforms are less expensive than the clothing that students typically
wear to school. Nonetheless, the cost of purchasing a uniform may be a burden on some families.
School districts with uniform policies should make provisions for students whose families are unable
to afford uniforms. Many have done so. Examples of the types of assistance include: (a) the school
district provides uniforms to students who cannot afford to purchase them; (b) community and
business leaders provide uniforms or contribute financial support for uniforms; (c) school parents
work together to make uniforms available for economically disadvantaged students; and (d) used
uniforms from graduates are made available to incoming students.
- Treat school uniforms as part of an overall safety program
Uniforms by themselves cannot solve all of the problems of school discipline, but they can
be one positive contributing factor to discipline and safety. Other initiatives that many schools have
used in conjunction with uniforms to address specific problems in their community include
aggressive truancy reduction initiatives, drug prevention efforts, student-athlete drug testing,
community efforts to limit gangs, a zero tolerance policy for weapons, character education classes,
and conflict resolution programs. Working with parents, teachers, students, and principals can make
a uniform policy part of a strong overall safety program, one that is broadly supported in the
Model School Uniform Policies
States and local school districts must decide how they will ensure a safe and disciplined
learning environment. Below are some examples of school districts that have adopted school
uniforms as part of their strategy.
Long Beach, California
Type: Uniforms are mandatory in all elementary and
middle schools. Each school in the district
determines the uniform its students will wear.
Support for disadvantaged students: Each school must develop an assistance plan for families that
cannot afford to buy uniforms. In most cases, graduating students either donate or sell used
uniforms to needy families.
Opt-out: Yes, with parental consent
Size of program: 58,500 elementary and middle school students
Implementation date: 1994
Results: District officials found that in the year following implementation of the school uniform
policy, overall school crime decreased 36 percent, fights decreased 51 percent, sex offenses
decreased 74 percent, weapons offenses decreased 50 percent, assault and battery offenses
decreased 34 percent, and vandalism decreased 18 percent. Fewer than one percent of the
students have elected to opt out of the uniform policy.
Dick Van Der Laan of the Long Beach Unified School District explained, "We can't
attribute the improvement exclusively to school uniforms, but we think it's more than
coincidental." According to Long Beach police chief William Ellis, "Schools have fewer reasons
to call the police. There's less conflict among students. Students concentrate more on education,
not on who's wearing $100 shoes or gang attire."
Type: Mandatory uniform policy at South Shore Middle School
Support for disadvantaged students: South Shore works with local businesses that contribute
financial support to the uniform program. In addition, the administration at South Shore found
that the average cost of clothing a child in a school with a prescribed wardrobe is less than in
schools without such a program, sometimes 80 percent less. School officials believe that
durability, reusability and year-to-year consistency also increase the economy of the school's plan.
Opt-out: Yes, with parental consent. Students who opt out
must attend another middle school in the district.
Size of program: 900 middle school students
mplementation date: 1995
Results: The principal of South Shore, Dr. John German, reports that "this year the demeanor
in the school has improved 98 percent, truancy and tardies are down, and we have not had one
reported incident of theft." Dr. German explains that he began the uniform program because his
students were "draggin', saggin' and laggin'. I needed to keep them on an academic focus. My
kids were really into what others were wearing." Only five students have elected to attend another
Type: Voluntary uniform policy at Maymont Elementary
School for the Arts and Humanities
Support for disadvantaged students>: Responding to parent concerns about the cost of uniforms,
the school sought community financial support for the uniform program. Largely as a result of
financial donations from businesses and other community leaders, the percentage of students
wearing uniforms rose from 30 percent in 1994-95, the first year of the program, to 85 percent
during the current year.
Opt-out: Uniforms are voluntary.
Size of program: 262 elementary school students
Implementation date: 1994
Results: Maymont principal Sylvia Richardson identifies many benefits of the uniform
program, including improved behavior, an increase in attendance rates and higher student
Kansas City, Missouri
Type: Mandatory uniform policy at George Washington
Carver Elementary School
Opt-out: None. Carver is a magnet school to which parents
and students apply knowing about the uniform
Size of program: 320 elementary school students
Implementation date: 1990
Support for disadvantaged students: Students receive their uniforms at no cost to them. The state
and school district pay for the uniforms primarily with magnet school funding.
Results: Philomina Harshaw, the principal for all six years that Carver has had uniforms,
observed a new sense of calmness throughout the school after students began wearing uniforms.
"The children feel good about themselves as school uniforms build a sense of pride. It forces
adults to know a child."
Type: Voluntary uniform policy at Douglas
Support for disadvantaged students: Douglas has business partners in Memphis that have
contributed financial support to purchase uniforms for needy families.
Opt-out: Uniforms are voluntary.
Size of program: 532 elementary school students
Implementation date: 1993
Results: According to Guidance Counselor Sharon Carter, "The tone of the school is
different. There's not the competitiveness, especially in grades, 4, 5, and 6, about who's wearing
what." Ninety percent of the students have elected to wear uniforms on school uniform days,
Monday through Thursday. Fridays are "casual" days during which none of the students wear
Type: Voluntary uniform policy at Mt. Royal
Support for disadvantaged students: Mt. Royal Elementary/Middle School keeps a store of
uniforms that are provided free to students who cannot afford the $35.00 to purchase them.
Ninety-eight percent of graduating eighth graders donate their uniforms to the school.
Opt-out: Uniforms are voluntary.
Size of program: 950 elementary and middle school students
Implementation date: 1989
Results: According to Mt. Royal's assistant principal, Rhonda Thompson, the uniform
policy "has enhanced the tone and climate of our building. It brings about a sense of seriousness
about work." All of the students have elected to participate in the uniform program.
Type: Mandatory uniform policy at Ruffner Middle School
Support for disadvantaged students: The school provides uniforms for students who cannot afford
Opt-out: None. Students who come to school without a
uniform are subject to in-school detention.
Size of program: 977 middle school students
Implementation date: 1995
Results: Using U.S. Department of Education software to track discipline data, Ruffner has noted
improvements in students' behavior. Leaving class without permission is down 47 percent,
throwing objects is down 68 percent and fighting has decreased by 38 percent. Staff attribute
these changes in part to the uniform code.
Type: Mandatory uniform policy at Phoenix
Support for disadvantaged students: A grant from a local foundation covers the $25 to $30 cost
of uniforms for families that cannot afford to buy them.
Opt-out: Yes, with parental consent. Students who opt
out must attend another middle school in the
Size of program: 1,174 middle school students
Implementation date: 1995
Results: According to the principal, Ramon Leyba, "The main result is an overall improvement
in the school climate and a greater focus on positive behavior. A big portion of that is from
For More Information
If you have questions about school programs with uniforms, please call the U.S. Department of Education Safe and Drug Free Schools office at 1-800-624-0100.
Prepared by the U.S. Department of Education in consultation with local communities and the U.S. Department of Justice.
And if you are ready to shop for styles Contact: Frank Bee School Uniforms 800-372-6523 www.Schooluniforms.com