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Uniforms Gain Favor With Parents, Schools
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Rising costs of designer clothes, popularity of gangs and the growing incidence of youth violence have made school uniforms an attractive option to many parents and school districts.
Once reserved for private schools, uniforms have become more common among the student population at large. Several Mississippi school districts already have established school uniform codes or will require uniforms this fall.
Styles and policies among these schools vary widely. Some require everyone to wear the same clothes everyday. Others require certain clothing on set days or establish a color scheme and allow youth to mix and match as they like.
Rosemary Mosley, principal of Witherspoon Elementary in Meridian, said her school instituted school uniforms in 1996. While this is the only school in the district with uniforms, children at this pre-kindergarten to fifth grade school are asked to wear them each day.
"Uniforms are not mandated by the school district, but I just sent out a letter to all the parents requesting that every child be in uniform every day this year," Mosley said.
For the two previous years, students were asked to wear their uniform each Wednesday and for all field trips or school functions. Mosley said participation was about 40 percent in the 1998-99 school year, and she expects a higher rate this year. The daily uniforms will complement a new reading program being instituted this year.
"Because the program is so structured, my hope is if we get everybody in uniform, we can get the students to focus on the reading program," Mosley said.
The dress code at Witherspoon is navy blue and white. Girls can wear either a white polo shirt or white blouse with peter pan collar with their khaki blue shorts, skirts, pants or jumper dress. Boys can wear a white polo shirt or white button down with the navy pants or shorts. Students can also wear a white polo shirt with the Witherspoon emblem on the chest.
"We talked with local merchants and there are several stores in Meridian that provide the uniform," Mosley said. "Since no brand is required, parents can shop around for the best prices."
Sonia Hancock, Rankin County home economist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said there are many sides to the school uniform issue.
"Some flexibility on uniform requirements is a good thing," Hancock said. "This allows children to wear colors or styles that flatter them, and allows greater freedom to switch out clothes if an item is stained or torn one day."
Across the state arguments are made both for and against school uniforms.
"One of the major arguments made in favor of uniforms is that it will lessen peer pressure if everyone dresses alike," Hancock said. "Others say that it takes away children's individuality and creativity."
Those in favor of uniforms often point out that if youth dress alike, they cannot wear clothing that identifies themselves with a gang. Opponents of the idea contend that if a uniform is not flattering, it can make a child feel insecure.
"Clothing can make a child feel better about themselves if it complements their body style or coloring," Hancock said.
Cost of the uniforms versus traditional school clothes is another big issue. Some families see a decrease in costs when uniforms are instituted, while others find their clothing budget rise.
"Some families and friends share children's clothing that has been outgrown. This is not possible if children live in different school districts with different uniform codes," Hancock said. "Other families shop at garage sales, and buying new school uniforms would increase their costs."
Hancock said the care a uniform requires can cause problems with families if the uniform is harder to keep clean and neat than the traditional school clothes.
Contact: Sonia Hancock, (601) 825-1462