This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Lauren Goldman
Tonight on “Teach,” Northeast High School enacts a new school-wide uniform policy. The new policy fuels student frustration and debate, and a number of students rebel and decide to test the policy by disobeying it. This leaves the staff responsible to enforce the policy, fueling even more controversy among students, parents, and school officials.
Philadelphia’s uniform policy was implemented in 2000 and requires uniforms for all students in kindergarten through eighth grade, leaving high schools with more discretion on whether to implement uniforms. The School District of Philadelphia offers a very clear dress code and examples of consequences that may occur upon disobeying the dress code. If that was not enough information regarding dress code, each school has its own handbook that offers the school’s policy, Northeast High School included.
With the dress code for the Philadelphia School District and Northeast High School being so clear, why was there such a debacle when it came time for enforcement of the policy? In tonight’s episode it seems as if students and parents alike have an issue with the motive of uniform enforcement at Northeast. In a conference between the administration and teachers before the first day of uniforms, Danza asks what the effect of uniforms might be.
When Inquirer columnist Monica Yant Kinney took a look at the uniform enforcement in a Chester County elementary school, she found that there was no evidence the policy had done much for the school. Northeast Principal Carroll understands this and answers Danza’s query by explaining that the policy is not to improve behavior, but to teach kids how to dress.
When Northeast enforced the uniform policy, parents clashed with school personnel regarding the issue. There were many issues surrounding the policy, and the lack of positive impact from the policy seemingly outraged parents more. According to District policy, any uniform must be easy to find, inexpensive, and available from more than one retailer. However, parents complained this is not the case for the selected uniform at Northeast High School. Parents also protested against what seemed to be extreme consequences for disobeying the dress code.
Does your school have uniforms? How were they implemented? Do you think uniforms have a positive impact, or do they unnecessarily limit student expression? Tonight’s episode is a chance to reflect on uniform policies in public schools and what the effects may be.