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Public School Uniform Debate



The public school uniform debate has been an issue for educators, parents, and students for years. This article has information on the pros and cons of public school uniform from educators', parents', and students' views.

While school uniforms are typically found in private schools, it may have only been in 1987 that the first public schoolâ€"Cherry Hill Elementary in Baltimore, MDâ€"instituted a school uniform policy. Then, in 1994, the Long Beach Unified School District in California adopted a mandatory uniform policy in some of its schools, making it the first urban district to do so. Though public school uniform use is not widespread, it is growing. The question of what students should wear to school rouses strong feelings on both sides. Here are some arguments for and against the use of school uniforms.


While school uniforms are typically found in private schools, it may have only been in 1987 that the first public school - Cherry Hill Elementary in Baltimore, MD - instituted a school uniform policy. Then, in 1994, the Long Beach Unified School District in California adopted a mandatory uniform policy in some of its schools, making it the first urban district to do so. Though public school uniform use is not widespread, it is growing.

Reasons For and Against School Uniforms

Educators, parents, and students site many reasons in favor of school uniforms: 

  • School administrators face a complicated task setting a dress code: with inappropriate coverage (for example, strapless, halter, and midriff tops and too-short skirts and shorts) and inappropriate insignia (for example, slogans for alcohol and cigarettes and clothing with vulgar language or representing otherwise objectionable connections, such as gang membership), it may be easier to have a uniform than to detail and enforce independently chosen clothing. 
  • Dress code aside, the interest in fashion and fad combined with peer pressure can lead to pressure to spend money that some families can ill afford: school uniforms refocus this issue. 
  • Wearing of school uniforms prevents the formation of dress-identified cliques 
  • The wearing of school uniforms emphasizes membership and group identity, fostering a community spirit. 
  • Crimes involving stealing items of apparel are unlikely to be perpetrated if everyone’s apparel is identical. 
  • Because students can be easily identified, intruders in the school setting can be more readily identified and students on field trips are more easily accounted for. 
  • The wearing of school uniforms helps students to realize that a person’s unique gifts and personality traits go deeper than their apparel and aren’t diminished by uniform dress.

Other educators, parents, and students are opposed to school uniforms and give reasons like the following: 

  • Uniforms interfere with students’ rights for self-expression. 
  • Uniforms are an unnecessary expense and can create an economic hardship themselves. 
  • Uniforms are an unnecessary exertion of power by administrators who don’t know how to exercise responsible authority. 
  • The wearing of uniforms does not prevent the formation of cliques or gangs. 
  • The wearing of uniforms does not prevent students from expressing unpopular or inappropriate views in other ways. 
  • School uniforms can be ugly and/or unflattering, and having to wear something unattractive or unflattering is not good for students’ self-image. 
  • The wearing of uniforms my delay or prevent students from having to learn how to get alongside of people whose personal taste differs markedly from their own and which they may find unappealing. 
  • The wearing of school uniforms may give students the impression that conformity is the way to prevent conflict, and this is not an appropriate message for schools to send.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), which includes middle level principals, has not taken an official stand on school uniforms, leaving it to be decided school-by-school.

Public School Uniforms Sources:

  • naesp.org
  • nmsa.org