Thursday, December 22, 2005

Voting For Uniformity In Arizona

Student uniforms seem to be gaining momentum in one fairly large Arizona school district:
Uniforms are spreading in Mesa Public Schools.

Lowell Elementary, 920 E. Broadway Road, is set to become the district's fifth elementary school with a uniform dress code for students beginning with the 2006-07 school year.

The district requires a lengthy process for school communities that want uniforms, and Lowell is practically finished with it.

For many schools, the major hurdle is getting a groundswell of parent support. That stumbling block tripped up Lowell's efforts before. Staff members sent nearly 775 surveys to Lowell parents in October, and 724 were returned, said Lowell principal, Sandi Kuhn. Almost 600 parents, 83 percent of those voting, supported the measure.

Mesa Public Schools requires that 80 percent of parents approve a move to uniforms. Twice before, Lowell parents tried unsuccessfully to bring uniformity to student dress at the school. Last year, about 75 percent of the parents supported the idea, Kuhn said.

"We got more surveys back this time, and there's more of a like mind among parents," Kuhn said. "They want uniforms for their children."

So far, all uniform propositions have originated with parents, said Mesa's associate superintendent, Mike Cowan. "If this is something the community wants, we want this to come from the community and not from the district," Cowan said. Principals on campuses with dress codes cite an improved study environment that accompanies uniforms, although there's little evidence that uniforms enhance test scores. Administrators also say uniforms make it easier to distinguish legitimate students from interlopers on campus.

Kuhn said many parents noted the pressure to pay for fashionable non-uniform school clothes when stating a preference for adopting uniforms at Lowell.

Jason Busse acknowledges the security advantages of uniforms but the parent of a Lowell kindergarten student has seen their other side, especially when getting his stepdaughter, Kara, ready for school.

"We had to fight her every morning to get the uniform on her," Busse said of Kara, who started the school year in uniform at Longfellow before transferring to Lowell. "She likes it better without the uniform, because she doesn't have to wear the closed-toed shoes. She likes flip-flops."

If Mesa School Board members approve Lowell's uniform proposal at the Jan. 10 meeting, the daily battles will begin again for the Busses next fall.

The proposed dress code would include khaki pants, shorts or jumpers, and blue or red tops, Kuhn said. Lowell's student council approved the colors at a meeting last month, but the credit for bringing uniforms to Lowell rests with the parents, Kuhn said.

"The only reason we talked about uniforms was because the parents brought it to the (School Improvement Advisory Council)," she said. "We've done it a couple of times over the last couple of years, and it's been brought by the parents every single time."
Students have been wearing uniforms at our junior high in California's "Imperial" Valley for some 7 years. Among the many positive benefits that we've found with uniforms was an immediate and permanent reduction in on-campus gang activity as well as an overall improvement in student behavior.

In the case of our 11 campus elementary district, the superintendent, Dr. Evil and most school principals (including ours) were dead-set against the idea of school uniforms. What happened was a large group of parents went around the district's administrative apparatus and applied pressure directly to the board, which finally agreed to allow parents to vote for or against uniforms during parent conference week.

To the surprise of nearly everyone, (including the governing board) the parents voted 94% in favor. The board quickly adopted student uniforms with "opt-out" provisions as required by state law.

Those who were opposed to the uniforms were mostly well-to-do, a few of which went ahead and "opted-out" their children from wearing uniforms.
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