The Business of Education: School Uniform How-To

School uniform programs aren’t for every school or district. But many of the public school districts that have embraced the program -- either for a single school or for the entire system -- have seen positive results. Reduced instances of bullying and classroom disruptions as well as improved attendance and increased test scores have been reported by districts with uniform and standardized dress code policies.

Putting a uniform policy in place takes time and careful thought. ASBJ Editor-in-Chief Kathleen Vail spoke recently with Andy Beattie, the president of Classroom School Uniforms, about what school board members need to know if they’re considering a school uniform or standardized dress code policy for their districts or for one of their schools. 

What is the first step school boards should take?

Boards must define why school uniforms are important to them. Are there class divisions being enforced by clothing? Are kids being singled out because they are dressed differently or in an inequitable way? Does the board want to drive down disciplinary referrals, help morale on campus, or create a more professional environment where students can focus? School uniforms can be a tool to address these problems, but it’s important the board understands what challenges it wants to solve and understand how uniforms can help as a solution. We like to see the whole board behind the policy. If it’s a split vote, we recommend waiting, as the community is not there yet.

What’s next?

Community support is vital, and they need to survey the community. I used to be a school board president. Anytime you are putting change in policy, you must clearly define the policy and the outcomes. Then ask community members: Would you be in favor? We like to see a 60 percent buy-in; then you have critical mass.

Can you give an example of how the community might react?

There will be the question of whether the policy will be a financial burden. You are requesting that parents purchase a specific product for school. In general, uniforms are a financial benefit. A year’s worth of school uniforms should cost $150 per year. If you contrast that with street wear or fashion goods, it’s cost-effective. The child is in it all day long; it keeps its color and shape better. You should be able to get a whole year’s wear out of it.

How can boards assist low-income families?

Some districts or schools may just say on application of need, we will provide a set of uniforms. But the schools or districts themselves might be challenged. Some districts use Title I money to help out. They can look for community support or local philanthropic groups might want to get involved. If they have several thousand kids, a local retailer might offer to help, too.

Getting community support is important, but what about administrators and teachers?

We have heard from some boards that uniforms seemed like a good idea at the board level, but there was no support at the building level. They are nervous that they will become the dress police. When a district does enact such a program, it’s important the administrators educate staff and community. It’s hard to keep a policy intact if campus administrators won’t enforce it. If people do follow through, eventually they will find a drop in disciplinary referrals.

What is the time frame to put uniform policies in place?

We often tell boards, you can’t put policy in place in June and expect the program to start in September. They need to work with their retail providers to get things adequately covered. If you’re going to enact a program, you need to start talking in January and make your decision by April for the following school year.

For more information about Classroom School Uniforms.