Public school can be likened to a catwalk. Students’ clothing choices can often take center stage, subjecting both boys and girls to either praise or criticism. What fashion a student wears can be part of an exciting competition—or an opportunity for bullying.
In recent months, parents and staff members of the Southampton School District have suggested that the School Board reopen a discussion about requiring students to wear uniforms. At a board meeting last week, School Board President Heather McCallion asked that parents, staff members and board members involved in the district’s site-based teams—groups of parents and staff charged with exploring various topics, for shared decision-making—begin looking into the pros and cons of having such a policy. The issue is still in its earliest stages of discussion, and no decision is slated to be made anytime soon, she said.
Gathered around a table in Intermediate School Principal Tim Frazier’s office on Monday, members of the school’s Student Council groaned when they heard the term “school uniform.” Not one of the six students, who are in the fifth through eighth grades, raised their hands when asked if they support introducing a uniform policy. Although they all expressed an aversion to the idea of having to wear the same school outfit day in and day out, most knew the benefits to wearing a uniform and said they wanted to be included in the School Board’s conversation.
According to the students, self-expression is most important when it comes to the way they dress.
Seventh-grader Aaron Napier said he is a complete “sneakerhead” who likes to express himself through the shoes he wears, and he thinks wearing a uniform would be detrimental. “Everyone would be the same, and no one could give any expression of themselves,” he said.
Eighth-grader Pablo Alvarez agreed that it is important that students maintain their individuality, even if uniforms become the norm. “What we wear is a point of expression,” he said. “Without that one and only way to express ourselves in a school environment, it would be important to let students express themselves within the boundary of their uniforms.”
Not only do the students feel that it’s important that they express themselves through their clothing, they said they like the hunt for the newest fashions.
“A school uniform would lower the excitement of going to school,” said sixth-grader Finn Pilaro, who said he likes to wear jeans and T-shirts to school. “I like to shop for clothes at the beginning of a new school year.”
Piggy-backing off Finn’s observations, Pablo said he agrees that a uniform would put a damper on things at school. “Clothing adds diversity and excitement in our school day. If they take that away, they’ll actually be helping make our day to be less vivid and more monotonous,” he said.
The students also suggested that some of their peers may not be respectful of the code and either ignore it or alter their clothing.
Eighth-grader Alec Giufurta and Pablo said at the school they last attended, The Ross School, students trashed their uniforms, and the policy was not strictly enforced. “People hated them,” Alec said. “There was a lot of movement to get the policy repealed, because students can’t express themselves.”
Pablo agreed saying students were abusive of their uniforms. “It doesn’t really show well of the school if they’re not enforcing the policy and go by what the students say,” he added.
On the other hand, the students did understand why a uniform policy could be handy—Julia Kepczynska felt that bullying and low self-esteem could be cut down by introducing uniforms. “Some people like to wear the newest clothes, and sometimes that can lower your self-confidence, because you know you can never get them,” she said. “By wearing a uniform, you’d be saving money and spending your money on one or two uniforms for the entire year, and people wouldn’t get as jealous.”
Not only would a uniform act as an equalizer among students, it would also be less distracting, according to the students.
“Clothing can cause jealousy and aggression and can be really inappropriate,” Julia said, noting that in the fourth grade she was once surprised to see some female students wearing “belly shirts,” and that boys now wear saggy pants. “If done in moderation, and people follow the rules, a uniform policy wouldn’t have to be applied.”
Finn, who lived in Ireland and wore a formal school uniform until he was 9 years old, said his brother likes to wear pink skinny jeans, and people like to make fun of him for it. “Some people can be harsh … but I don’t feel like that happens a lot here,” he added.