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Clinton Focuses Nation on School Uniforms (03/01/1996)

President Bill Clinton received an enthusiastic welcome from students in uniform and adult guests at Jackie Robinson Academy Saturday. He came to Long Beach to praise school uniforms and to lend his personal support to the new national cause.

His visit is believed to be the first by a U.S. president to a school in the LBUSD.

"The Long Beach Unified School District and the parents here have not stood idly by,"

Clinton told the crowd of 2,500.

"The entire United States of America is in your debt, because you took the first step."

Clinton used his appearance at Long Beach's newest school to announce the publication of a new manual on school uniforms by the U.S. Department of Education. It will be distributed to every school district in the nation.

Before addressing the cheering audience of adults and students from throughout the district, Clinton attended a round-table discussion on uniforms attended by representative school and community leaders, administrators, teachers and students.

Two eighth graders were among the participants in the roundtable discussion--Melissa Machit, Hughes, and Maurice Troutman, Stephens. Melissa introduced the president at the rally and presented him with a sweatshirt emblazoned with the district logo and the words "I Support School Uniforms."

Clinton later invited both students and Hughes teacher Sandra Machit to the White House.

Superintendent Carl Cohn welcomed the president.

"When parents and families told us they wanted school uniforms, we listened," Cohn said. "We had no idea their voices would be heard in Washington. But they were.

"When our Board of Education took the courageous action to require school uniforms, we did not imagine that this decision would strike a responsive chord with so many parents and attract national attention. But it has.

"When our nation's top law enforcement officer came here to find out why our schools and community are safer, why there has been a dramatic reduction in violence and why students in uniforms are working peacefully together, we were surprised. But she took time to listen and to convey support of school uniforms from the White House.

"When we heard words of encouragement for school uniforms in the State of the Union Address, we didn't anticipate the massive response we have received. The phones have been ringing off the hook.

"Today we welcome someone who, like us, wants each student to take school seriously, to set higher standards of excellence, not only in dress but also in conduct and achievement.

"As you know, education faces many challenges, from violence to low expectations, from overcrowded classrooms to older schools in need of major repairs. We are grateful for courageous leaders willing to stand up for our children and families--whether the issue is school uniforms or building new schools like this one or fixing older ones as we so urgently need to do here in California.

"There is a lesson to be learned from our experience. Abraham Lincoln said it best:

"'A child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started. He is going to sit where you are sitting, and when you are gone, attend to those things you think are important. You may adopt all of the policies you please, but how they are carried out depends on him. He will assume control of your cities, states and nations. He is going to move in and take over your churches, schools, universities and corporations. The fate of humanity is in his hands.'"

Dr. Cohn will fly to Washington next week to participate in a national violence prevention panel at the White House with President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Gen. Barry McCaffrey, new director of National Drug Control Policy.

'We Are All In Your Debt'

President Clinton stressed the following points at his historic visit to Jackie Robinson School on Saturday, February 24:

"This remarkable progress that you have shown in your school as a result of your school uniform policy, making it safer, more disciplined, orderly, creates teachers who focus on teaching and students who focus on their job of learning. You are returning schools to their original purpose and proving that public institutions can excel. We may have high standards and high expectations for all children and a high focus for a strategy at the grass-roots level supported by everyone in the community in carrying it out.

"I took some pains in the State of the Union Address to urge the other school districts in the nation to consider following the example of Long Beach.

"It's important to be able to make a good living, and it's important to be able to buy things that you'd like to have, but that's not the most important thing in life, and it's tragic when young people without a balanced upbringing, without rounded guidance, without secure education, wind up believing it's all right to kill somebody for a pair of sneakers or jewelry or a designer jacket. In Detroit, a 15-year-old boy was shot recently for his $86 basketball shoes. In Ft. Lauderdale, a 15-year-old student was robbed of his jewelry. Just this past December, near where I live now in Maryland, a 17-year-old honors student was killed at a bus stop, just standing there, caught in the cross-fire during a robbery of another student's designer jacket.

"As parents, every one of us has been wrenched by these stories. We cannot stand idly by while our children are having their childhood robbed from them and from us by people who place more value on material things than even human life, not to mention human murder. The Long Beach Unified School District and the parents here have not stood idly by.

"I want to again say the entire United States of America is in your debt because you took the first step to show the elementary and middle school students that wearing uniforms in class reduces violence, reduces truancy, reduces disorder, increases learning and as was said more ably than me by my remarkable introducer, gives a bed of unity and purpose and teamwork of students and the schools that are in this school district. We are all in your debt in the United States.

"After the first year of this program, the number of these students drinking or bringing guns to school was cut in half. Overall crime in school was cut by more than a third in one year. In addition to safety, learning improved. Schoolwork became more important to students than showing off what they were wearing or resenting what someone else was wearing. Maybe the most important of all in the long run, I think these uniforms do not stamp out individuality among our young people. Instead, they slowly teach our young people one of life's more important lessons, that what really counts is what you are and what you can become on the inside, not what you are wearing on the outside."

'Don't Have to Look Over My Shoulder'

"I think that you could make a serious argument that this school uniform benefits the children of that one family as much as it benefits the children of your family. That is a lesson that all our children need to learn. And in the end, we should remember, it should be safety first. I was so moved in this matter, listening to Melissa talk about community events, listening to young Maurice say "I can walk down the street now and because I have my uniform on, those gangs know that I'm not a problem. I'm just a student. I don't have to look over my shoulder all the time." It is wrong for a young person to look over his or her shoulder while walking down a street in the United States of America. It is wrong. And it has to stop.

"And let me say finally about you, you did it, reflecting the lesson I said was the most important I had learned. You did this together. This was not imposed on you. Parents decided this, working with the kids, working with the school board, working with the police department, working with others, worked this out together, and I learned about the differences of students in school, and I learned about the differences in permissible uniforms. I learned all of that here. It is really pleasing to me to understand just how much a grass-roots endeavor this is, and that also is important.

"We want to support what you have done here, and so we have taken on the job of finding out what works and how, and I want you to know that just before I came here today, I signed a directive instructing the Secretary of Education to distribute this new manual on school uniforms to every one of the nations' 16,000 school districts so they will know how to do what you did. The Department of Education worked with the Department of Justice and the Attorney General to develop this. It's a road map for the establishment of a policy of school uniforms for schools that want to use it, too. It provides an essential source of information about successful programs, yours and those that have followed, that are making a difference all across America."