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Dealing with school uniforms

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Sometimes procedures get in the way of good ideas. That appears to be the case with school uniforms.

Several Utah schools will likely abandon school uniform policies this fall. North Davis Junior High already has, eliminating its policy after a two-year trial.

On the surface, the idea of public schools embracing what has long been a staple of private schools in order to foster a better atmosphere makes a lot of sense. But unlike private schools, Utah's public school uniform policies can't be mandatory. Parents, by law, have the right to exempt their children from wearing school uniforms. Public schools that have adopted mandatory uniform policies in other states have been sued.

When a significant number of parents opt out of their school's uniform policy, the policy is basically useless.

That's the case at Rosamond Elementary School in Riverton, where 412 of 640 families have opted out of sending their children to school in uniforms.

The purpose of uniforms is to bring a student body closer together — to unite, not divide. But as Rosamond Principal Ron Jarrett noted, "If uniforms continue to divide this community, I don't think this is healthy." He's right.

At North Davis, about half of the students wore uniforms last spring. That wasn't nearly enough for Principal Kent Smith to continue the program. He believes at least 75 percent of the students have to abide by a standardized dress policy in order for a school to reap benefits from it.

Some schools have had considerable success with their uniform policies. For example, truancies fell from 404 to 215, suspensions dropped from 334 to 73 and general behavioral problems dropped from 1,328 to 73 the year after the uniform policy debuted at North Layton Junior High. Honor rolls also increased by 20 percent and 11 percent in the eighth and ninth grades, respectively.

Since a mandatory uniform policy is not an option, schools that want to pursue wearing uniforms need to make sure there is ample input and support from the parents. Implementing a school dress code policy isn't wise unless virtually all parents agree to participate.