UWT Student Investigators; Do uniforms in public schools make sense?

By PJ Porter

Uniforms emerged in England in 1222 and were worn by children of the lower class before they later became a standard for the elite. Poor or rich, uniforms are an accepted standard in most private schools. But there is an ongoing debate over whether students should wear uniforms in public schools.

In the United States, 39 public elementary schools and two public junior high schools of the Washington, D.C., School District mandated uniform policies in 1988. In 1994, Long Beach California Unified School District made national news as the first major public school to adopt a policy that required students to wear uniforms to school.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the total number of public schools nationwide requiring students to wear school uniforms increased from 12 percent during the 1999-2000 school year to 21 percent during the 2015-2016 school year. In 2015-2016, 25 percent of public primary schools enforced a uniform policy, as did 20 percent of public middle schools and 12 percent of public high schools.

A higher proportion of schools located in cities had mandatory uniforms in 2015-2016 than schools in suburban, town and rural areas. Mandatory uniforms were far more prevalent in “high-poverty” schools — where 76 percent of students were eligible for reduced-cost or free lunch programs — than in “low-poverty schools.”

In the Tacoma school district, there are a total of 11 middle schools, 10 high schools and 46 elementary schools, and each individual school decides whether students wear school uniforms.

Sherman Elementary, located in Tacoma’s North End, explains on its website that its uniform policy fosters a “business-like” atmosphere that acclimates students to dressing appropriately for their future workplaces.

Delong Elementary, on Tacoma’s southside, cites a number of reasons for their uniform policy, including a desire to reduce bullying, promote unity and pride and reduce the cost of clothes for families.

“I am less distracted because I am not going to school daydreaming about the clothes and style that other students are wearing,” said Alyshia Blount, a sixth grade student at Jason Lee Middle School.

Blount’s mother, Shaneka Williams, thinks there are a lot of benefits to students wearing uniforms.

“It’s easier to get them dressed,” Williams said. “I purchased enough uniforms to get them through the week and they don’t have to worry about not having enough clean clothes.”

Tacoma Public Schools gives each campus license to determine their own uniform policy, or whether they want a uniform policy at all.

According to Allison Klump, Administrative Secretary of the Public Information Office for Tacoma School District, “Tacoma believes that every child is an individual with a unique learning style, personality, [and] talent and [we] allow students and parents to choose the school that fits best.”

As more and more public schools implement uniform policies, the question still remains as to their effectiveness. But do students really have a choice in the matter, and do they really care?

“Our students don’t seem to mind the uniform policy,” Franklin Middle School counselor Jaime Smith said. “It is the way it’s always been at our school, so they just don’t know any differently.”

For middle schooler Jalean Pitt, who wore a uniform when she attended a private school in Tacoma, uniforms seemed to make a difference, at least when dealing with bullying.

“I do not wear uniforms now, that was years ago,” Pitt said.”I felt wearing a uniform had an impact on students not being bullied as much.”