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News Tribune

News Tribune -- Thursday, April 7, 1994
Letters and Opinions
By Peter Callaghan
News Tribune editorial columnist

The Long Beach Unified School District has won a Golden Bell Award for its exemplary implementation of required school uniforms in grades K-8, the first public school system in the U.S. to do so.

The prestigious statewide award, granted to exemplary school programs by the California School Boards Association, was presented to LBUSD for excellence in the school safety category. District representatives will receive the award Saturday, December 7 at the CSBA Annual Education Conference in San Jose.

After two full years of required school uniforms in grades K-8, districtwide school crime in those grades is down 71 percent. For the same period, crime in LBUSD high schools, where uniforms are not required, increased 28 percent.

The district listened to its parents when they requested school uniforms several years ago --first in one elementary school, then in 10 pilot elementary and middle schools, and finally in all 70 schools serving 60,000 elementary and middle school students. It took great courage for the Board of Education to do what no public school district in the nation had done before. The Board acted several months before state legislation patterned after the LBUSD program was introduced and enacted.

The district's school uniform policies and guidelines were developed from scratch and have withstood two legal challenges -- one in U.S. district court and a second in California superior court. Long Beach has paved the way for school districts and parents throughout the nation to have school uniforms. President Clinton acknowledged the district's leadership with a personal visit, declaring repeatedly, "America is in your debt."

Key provisions of LBUSD's school uniform program include:

  • making certain that there is a high level of parental support for uniforms before the decision to require them;
  • allowing each school to select its own uniforms that are affordable, easy to care for and widely available from many competitive sources;
  • working with community groups to provide uniform assistance to disadvantaged children;
  • taking positive steps to assure compliance;
  • monitoring the impact of uniforms; and
  • communicating that impact.

"School uniforms require no expenditure of taxpayer funds or educational dollars," according to the CSBA nomination. "They have had a significant impact upon the quality of education and the learning environment at no added cost to schools and at a savings to most parents.

"In many schools with uniforms, the rate of student absence has decreased, which means more instructional time for students and more ADA revenue to the school district.

"School uniforms help to level the playing field. In Long Beach, the children of millionaires and the children of very limited means attend school side by side. In uniforms, such huge differences in socioeconomic status are minimized. Students do not feel falsely superior or inferior because of their clothing. Fewer students are ridiculed about their attire when potential critics are wearing the same thing.

"Conflicts are reduced when students are seen as part of the same school team. School uniforms replace the unofficial uniforms that have polarized and divided too many groups at too many California schools for too long. Students. are judged less by their clothing and more by the quality of what they learn and can do. That's what public education is all about.

"The most obvious evaluation in a state that allows exemptions from any uniform requirement is what percentage of parents choose not to have their children wear uniforms. Of 60,000 K-8 students, parents of fewer than 500--less than 1 percent--have requested exemptions. Another indicator of the success of school uniforms is the large and growing number of public schools and school districts following LBUSD's example in California, Texas. Florida, Illinois. Michigan, Oregon, Ohio, Georgia and many other states.

"Beyond receiving the most favorable worldwide news coverage of any school district in the U.S. during the past two years, the district attracted visits by President Bill Clinton and the nation's top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Janet Reno. They met students and endorsed school uniforms as examples for all school districts to consider.

"District officials have assisted more than 500 reporters and shared information via phone. mail, fax and the Internet with hundreds of school districts throughout the U.S. and in Canada, Japan, France and Great Britain. Officials have participated in national network and local radio and TV interviews, provided information for books. magazine articles. scholarly research and newspaper articles, accommodated an endless stream of visitors to local schools and provided testimony before the state legislature and at state and national conferences.

"The bottom line goal for this exemplary educational reform is to elevate standards of excellence for all students--not only in dress, but also in conduct and achievement. School uniforms have had a positive impact on all three."

The CSBA Golden Bell Awards program promotes excellence in education by recognizing outstanding programs in school districts and county offices of education throughout California.