Saturday, April 27, 2002

Uniforms required in district

St. Bernard-Elmwood sees benefits for all

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

        ST. BERNARD — When school opens this fall, St. Bernard-Elmwood Place may be the only public district in the Tristate — and one of a few in the nation — to require that its entire student body wear uniforms.

        Parents received letters from the district this month outlining the uniform policy. The board of education approved the measure, 4-1, calling it a “standard dress policy,” on Feb. 25.

    • Shirts must be solid color and have collars.
    • Sweatshirts, sweaters and vests must be solid color (artwork on them cannot exceed 3-by-5 inches).
    • Button-down shirts must be buttoned to the top two buttons.
    • Slacks, shorts and skirts must be black, tan or navy and made of cotton, wool or cotton blend.
    • Shorts are restricted to students in grades K-6 before Oct. 1 and after April 30.
    • Slacks and shorts must be dress-trouser style with set-in waistband and zippered fly (no jeans, no cargo pants).
    • No drawstring or elastic athletic style waistbands.
    • Skirts must be no shorter than 4 inches above the knee and cannot have slits, other than normal short kick pleat in the back.
    • Shorts must have 6-inch inseam.
    • No open-toed shoes.
        “We don't mind leading the pack. Our decision wasn't based on what everyone else has done but what's best for our students,” said school board president Linda Radtke.

        “Our hope is that it will create an environment that is more conducive to increasing student achievement and improving mutual respect among students and staff.”

        The policy takes effect Sept. 3 for the district's 1,090 students. But why the districtwide requirement?

        “Because the same benefits we identified for our elementary students are there for our junior high and high school students as well,” Ms. Radtke said.

        A committee of parents, students, teachers, and other school employees and administrators studied the issue for one year.

        Only 3 percent of public schools require students to wear uniforms, according to the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education.

        A National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) 2000 survey of 755 principals nationwide showed that one in five (21 percent) of public schools had uniform policies. But in many of those schools, the policy is voluntary.

        It's unusual for a district to require uniforms for K-12 in one fell swoop, said June Million, public information director of the NAESP.

        A more common approach by school districts is to let each building decide whether its students will wear uniforms. That is the case at Cincinnati Public, North College Hill and Mount Healthy schools.

        Uniforms in public schools got an endorsement from President Clinton in his 1996 State of the Union address when he suggested all 16,000 U.S. public school districts consider mandatory school uniforms.

        The Department of Education then published a manual on how to implement school uniform policies and distributed it to all districts.

        Donna Barnett, a secretary in the St. Bernard-Elmwood Place district's central office and mother of a kindergartner, is researching the cost of school uniform items at area retailers. A survey of three department stores found the average cost of uniform-type pants and shirts to range between $10 and $15. Based on her findings, Mrs. Barnett said wearing uniforms could cut clothing costs for district students by two-thirds.

        Keith King, a University of Cincinnati assistant professor who has researched the effects of school uniforms, said they are “one of many vehicles in a comprehensive program that schools must implement to address such issues as violence and involvement in unhealthy activities.”

        Laura Mosely, a St. Bernard parent and school board member, said “(The policy) is a morale booster because it makes your school look good when the kids are all dressed the same. It's like they take pride in their school.”

        Jeannie Crank of Elmwood Place, who has six children in the district, has a different opinion.

        “My biggest problem is the reason they're doing it,” Mrs. Crank said. “Supposedly, it's to make the kids feel equal, but I don't see how the same type of clothes is going to make the difference.”

        Students at the junior-senior high school have mixed feelings about the uniforms.

        “I don't think we should have them,” said Isha Jenkins, 13, an eighth-grader from Elmwood Place. “I think they're ugly and I think we should be allowed to wear whatever we want.”

        Josh Bowlin, 14, an eighth-grader from Elmwood Place, and Ashleigh Hendricks, 17, an 11th-grader from St. Bernard, disagreed.

        “You won't have people making fun of you because you have different clothes,” Josh said.

        Added Ashleigh: “With uniforms, you don't have to think about what you're going to wear in the morning.”

       Cindy Kranz contributed to this report.


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