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San Francisco Chronicle (09/12/1995)

THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE - September 12, 1995 -- A13

Joshua Hall didn't have any trouble choosing what to wear yesterday for the first day of school at Westlake Junior High.

The 15-year-old eighth-grader wore a white shirt and blue slacks, the same ensemble he plans to put on every day except when he decides to wear khaki. White, blue and khaki are, in fact, standard garb now at Westlake, where the vast majority of Joshua's 765 classmates strolled around yesterday in virtually the same outfits.

The Oakland Unified School District became the first public school district in Northern California to make uniforms a systemwide requirement for all students through eighth grade.

The move comes amid growing competition among children over who is dressed best and increasing violence in schools based on gang clothing and colors. Oakland's new dress code is an effort to even the scales and get students to focus on learning rather than status.

Although it is too early to tell how effective the new policy will be, the uniforms seemed to be going over well among the 40,000 kindergarten-through-eighth-grade students who were required to wear them on the first day of school yesterday.

''I like them because I don't have to worry about what I'm going to wear every day,'' Joshua said. ''These are my favorite colors. When everybody wears them, it makes the school look nice and neat.''

Under state law, parents are allowed to file waivers removing their children from the requirement. As of last week, 126 Oakland families had done so. Another 3,050 Oakland families applied for financial assistance for uniforms. Of those, 2,700 were granted vouchers worth $ 15 for one or two children and $ 30 for three or more.

Sherri Willis, a spokeswoman for the Oakland schools, said that although some parents have complained that the uniform requirement is violating children's First Amendment rights, most parents support the new policy.

She and other school officials said up to 75 percent of the students in the district's 59 elementary schools and 17 middle and junior high schools wore uniforms on the first day, and that number is expected to grow as more parents realize the benefits of such a program.

''We're trying to show parents and the community at large that having standards is an OK thing,'' said Carol Lee Tolbert, a member of the Board of Education. ''This gives these kids a chance to be a part of a positive group without feeling competitive with children whose parents are more wealthy.''

Oakland's uniform policy is similar to a program in Long Beach that school officials there say resulted in a significant drop in safety-related problems. Oakland school district officials plan to monitor their program to see if it has any effect on attendance, crime or violence on campus.