LIMA — Lima Senior High School freshman Bryson Dick is like many of his classmates when it comes to choosing what to wear to school. Lima public schools have a school uniform policy which has been in effect for more than a decade.
“It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. It’s no hassle,” said Dick.
Students are used to the school uniform policy, which was implemented under then-superintendent Karel Oxley back in 2006 in the elementary and middle schools and rolled out to the whole district the following year.
“It was her desire to explore that, and I know she spent some time, like probably a year in the planning process of it, and then it was her desire and the board of education, with their approval, to implement that policy,” said Jill Ackerman, current superintendent of Lima schools. “I think that a lot of it came down to just the fact that some kids have more than others, and we wanted to try to just level the playing field across the board for everybody.”
Common in religious schools
Lima’s Catholic schools, along with Lima Temple Christian, implemented school uniform policies also. It’s been that way for decades.
“I personally have worn uniforms since first grade,” said Stephanie Williams, principal/CEO at Lima Central Catholic High School. “I’m a product of Catholic education, and I personally think students would echo this, they just felt that need. There wasn’t that need to compete with name brands and things like that, so it kind of eases that competition, that social factor, that a lot of times, especially at the high school level, exists.
“I think it creates great self-discipline. It creates good habits. There’s a process every morning to get up and make sure your tie is tied or your shirt is ironed or whatever that is so, just that good self-discipline that we hope to start ingraining early on and just kind of with that, responsibility for personal appearance. You know, a lot of jobs have dress codes, and so we’re just getting them acclimated and used to what might be expected of them in the workforce.”
That work decision follows her home.
“As a parent, my own children go to St. Charles,” Williams said. “I love that every day I know we don’t have to fight that battle. We can just: white polo, blue pants and you got your shoes, your socks and you’re out the door. So from a parent perspective, I think it also helps reduce some of those other issues that could come up in the morning, and I appreciate it,” Williams said.
There have been similar experiences at Temple Christian.
“We’ve been in school uniforms for quite some time, and we’ve made adjustments over the years,” said Bruce Bowman, superintendent at Lima Temple Christian. “We’ve got your pretty typical school uniform, but we also have campus wear where our students can purchase things out of our spirit store and wear some Temple clothing that might be beyond your typical school uniform. I think it makes it easier for families. It takes away some social pressures at school about who’s got the nicest clothes and who doesn’t, plus it’s just easier. You know what the kids are wearing so you have fewer dress code violations,” said Bowman.
“Usually students don’t like it, especially up front. They usually get used to it. I think overall it’s a positive and I think most parents probably do appreciate it.”
A little history
According to information from the Education Resources Information Center, President Bill Clinton endorsed the idea of public school uniforms in his 1996 State of the Union Address.
Following Clinton’s direction, the U.S. Department of Education sent the “Manual on School Uniforms” to all 16,000 school districts in the United States. With guidelines in hand, school boards and administrators began to develop dress codes and uniform policies.
A string of major school violence incidents in the late 1990s intensified interest in using uniforms to improve school safety. Officials realized that uniforms not only made it easier to spot intruders, but they also improved the school climate.
In a 2006 letter written to Ohio’s school board members, superintendents, and treasurers by Ohio School Boards Association President Linda F.R. Omobien, Omobien wrote, “Supporters say that uniforms improve student behavior, soften the differences among socioeconomic levels and increase students’ self-confidence, all of which boost student achievement. Detractors contend that mandatory uniform policies infringe on student rights, inhibit individuality and can be a financial burden on low-income families.”
It remains to be seen how much you can attribute school uniforms to a student’s success.
For example, the most recent grade card for Lima schools was an F. Ottoville schools, which doesn’t have a uniform policy, received an A on its report card.
“We can’t measure, like the grade cards, because there have been multiple different ones since that time. So when you look at climate, grades or attendance, you’re looking at some pretty subjective things that could be the result of a lot of things,” Ackerman said. “We know that some buildings, suspensions have become very minimal. Now, is that because of campus wear or because of other things that they’ve done there?
“I think it lends itself to a climate where we want kids to almost feel like they are dressing for work or that kind of a work, semi-professional atmosphere.”
Getting students to comply with the uniform policy can sometimes be difficult, resulting in some behavioral problems.
“What we do notice are those days when the kids are not in their campus wear that the climate of the building is a lot different,” Ackerman said. “The noise level is a lot louder, and they’re a little bit more rambunctious. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s a change, you know, and kids don’t always adapt real well to change, but we let them out for pictures and things like that and the high school does for exams and stuff, but we just notice a lot of, just a big difference in the climate on those days. In addition, when we do, there are a lot of dress code violations, in general, that we have to deal with.”
As for bullying, Ackerman says the uniforms have helped in that area.
“You don’t hear as many stories about kids teasing each other about their clothes or even shoes like we used to,” she said. “We used to get a lot of that back more when I was at the building level. I just don’t think that that is a problem because everybody’s pretty much wearing the same kind of thing.”
Since implementation, the school uniform policy in Lima schools has been reviewed periodically.
“We’ve relaxed it since I’ve been superintendent. We’ve had a campus wear committee that had come together a few years in a row, and there were some things we really did relax, one, being the requirement of the belt,” Ackerman said. “The real requirement is they just have their pants pulled up, and we want them, ideally, to have their shirt tucked in, but the belt is not a requirement. So when we took the belts out, we just took the belts out. We just removed it. We didn’t make a big deal out of it. We didn’t advertise that we were removing the belts, we just took it out. That was a hardship, I think. Kids would lose them. Parent’s couldn’t get them.
“The other thing was, they only had a certain a number of colors they could wear for shirts and we just said, ‘We don’t really care what color you wear for a shirt, as long as it’s just a solid color polo shirt.’ Initially, it was the shirts could not have logos on them, but we were finding that some of the stores that did have small logos on their shirts were selling their shirts at a really reasonable price that our parents could afford, so we removed the no-logo ban and said your shirt could have a logo.”
Over the years, the school uniform code at LCC has relaxed a bit.
“Some classrooms might be colder, hotter than others, and so this was an idea brought forward by a student actually who said, ‘Would you consider a zip-up option so that we don’t have to take it off, especially if you’re a girl, you know, with your hair and everything?’ So I had her sample the students, and she picked out a couple of possibilities from our bookstore, and I got some product in and some samples, and I asked the kids, logo-wise, which ones do you like better, the older T-bird or the new one. The new one is what appears on there. So we got those before Christmas, and I just introduced it to the kids as an option to buy,” Williams said.
Sometimes they have out-of-uniform days where a student might pay a dollar for the privilege of leaving the school uniform at home. That money is then donated to a charity or some school initiative.
“This year, I implemented a new policy that on their birthdays or their half-birthdays, they’re allowed to have an out-of-uniform day, and they seem to really appreciate that,” Williams.
The uniform policy at Lima schools became more relaxed to allow students to show off their school pride.
“You know what, if kids want to wear spirit wear tops, anything Spartan — shirts, sweatshirts — they can wear that on top. It doesn’t have to be a polo shirt every day, so they can wear their spirit-wear top with their campus wear pants any day of the week, not just on some special day. It’s an opportunity for them to get stuff to wear that represents their school,” Ackerman said.
“The football players can wear their jersey on game day. I think helps build spirit and that whole family thing and just trying to keep the fun in it. So as a parent, like Wednesdays and Fridays, are Spartan Spirit Day so (Ackerman’s son) knows on those days he doesn’t have to wear a polo shirt, that just kind of breaks up the week and makes it a little bit more fun,” said Ackerman.
Relaxing the school uniform policy also applies to certain curriculum.
“We have our kids in our health career class at the high school, and their uniform for their course are scrubs. The culinary kids have a certain coat that they wear, so we allow those kids to showcase those pieces that represent the programs that they’re in so it gives them some ownership, I think, in that as well,” Ackerman.
The future of school uniforms
It appears school uniforms are here to stay.
“I don’t foresee it not being here,” Ackerman said. “Everybody’s adapted really well to it. The parents have been extremely compliant. The retail outlets are really compliant. You can buy the clothing at a reasonable price. We have lots of people that donate things back when our kids grow out of them, so that makes it really nice so the buildings all have closets, so we can help out families or we have spare things for kids if an ‘accident’ happens and then they don’t stand out because they have on a pair of tan pants and it fits right into it all so it’s not an issue I think we need to visit.
“I think it’s broad enough now that there are opportunities for choices for kids, and we really do like it and I think that they just look nice. When they go out places, they represent us well and there’s been no thought or discussion with the board about removing it,” said Ackerman.
Similarly, the tradition of uniforms continues at LCC, Williams said.
“We have a uniform room here, so if there are families or students who, even if cost is still a concern, our alumni, our seniors, once they graduate our families are very generous about donating items back and so they really expand the life of the uniforms and that seems to be something that not only our exchange students take advantage of if they’re only here for a short time but even students or families that just might that need that help in that regard so that’s something we started a few years back and I think that’s been a nice success too,” Williams said.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.