Public schools and uniforms do not match

By Maddie Ulanow
Staff Writer

D.C.’s public school chancellor Michelle Rhee is trying very hard to improve the District’s schools, and though her efforts have been somewhat controversial, the mandatory uniform policy for the 2009-2010 school year absolutely crosses a line.

Released last month, next year’s policy enables D.C. principals to enforce uniform policies in their schools. For students attending schools that choose to implement the policy, this means tossing out carefully selected clothes and replacing them with plaid skirts, khakis and polos.
A uniform policy will turn public schools into dull, private school environments, filled with clone-like girls in blouses and modest plaid skirts, and identical boys in neat collared shirts and simple pants always pulled all the way up. Stated simply, uniforms kill the individuality and unique personality of students.

It is natural to think that perhaps uniforms go so far as to restrict the First Amendment right of free speech. Uniform policies have been challenged in court, but according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website, circuit courts have repeatedly upheld their constitutionality.

There are, of course, many other complicated matters to consider when implementing a mandatory uniform policy, including the price of the clothing and what sort of uniform is to be worn, but the restriction of student expression is one of the most controversial. According to Principal Joan Benz, students like to express themselves through their clothing, and she feels that uniforms detract from that form of expression.

Considering the inevitable, vehement school-wide protest to a uniform policy, is it still possible that uniforms could come make their way from D.C. schools to Montgomery County and CHS?

Thankfully, most likely not. According to Benz, the student body would never go along with it. While she admits that there are some perks to uniforms, the discussion has just never gotten off the ground at CHS.
There are, however, prominent supporters of mandatory uniforms, including former President Bill Clinton. Clinton once advocated uniforms with the claim that they help young Americans learn to judge each other based on their character, not the clothes they wear. Other proponents point to percentages and statistics that show a decrease in violence in school districts with uniforms. But what is the value of those numbers against the rights and beliefs of the student body, the very people the policies are designed to protect?

Mandatory uniform policies clearly deprive students of their individuality and rights. To implement such a policy would be to completely ignore and disregard the student opinion. CHS should not follow the policies of D.C. schools, and thanks to a Principal who understands student expression and takes note of a strongly opposed student body, it probably won’t.