Henrico schools consider mandatory student uniforms

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - The Henrico school board is in talks to change what students are allowed to wear to class.

Henrico County Public Schools adopted a new student dress code this Fall, but before the year is even out several elementary school principals are saying they want to go a step further. Serious talks are underway about going with mandatory student uniforms five days a week.

It's Spirit Friday at Laburnum Elementary School, and the kids wear what they want. Monday through Thursday, they wear uniforms. Technically, the uniforms are "voluntary", but change is in the autumn air to make them "mandatory".

"The principals and teachers have expressed to me that they want it," said Lamont Bagby, School Board Member for the Fairfield District.

Eight unspecified elementary schools –believed to be mostly in Eastern Henrico- are saying they want uniforms required because they're said to be good for discipline and focus.

"We want to take the focus off of the clothing, the shoes, and the shirts and the designer clothing," Bagby said.

The issue of mandatory uniforms is still in the early stages, and there has not been much public debate outside of a school board briefing this week. So we brought it to the ACLU, where there is a question of individual freedoms.

"We're a country that values that, and when you put people into uniforms, you remove some individuality, and some form of expression from people," said Kent Willis of the ACLU of Virginia.

The ACLU is generally against uniforms, and urges Henrico County Public Schools to consider the cost to low income families. For now, the plan involves only elementary schools.

"If you impose uniforms on younger children, it's going to be less controversial to the kids themselves, than if you do it with older ones. A high school student is far more likely to object to being required to wear a uniform, than a second grader," Willis said.

If approved, Bagby said elementary principals would have the option of making uniforms mandatory on a school-by-school basis.

"I would hope by January that we will have an up or down vote from the school board," he said.

January appears to be the optimistic deadline for a vote. School Board documents indicate a possible decision in March. In the meantime, parents will start getting surveys as early as next month.

Currently five Henrico County elementary schools have a voluntary school uniform program: Glen Lea ES, Adams ES, Laburnum ES, Highland Springs ES, and Ashe ES.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 18% of American public schools require uniforms at some level.

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