A task force of teachers, parents and administrators has recommended that the state's largest school district require its students to wear uniforms.
The Oklahoma City School Board will spend the coming weeks gathering public feedback about the idea before they are expected to vote in February.
“It's hard to make a decision that affects 40,000 students,” said Kathleen Kennedy, a district spokeswoman and a member of the task force. “Not everyone's going to like the decisions you make every time. They're just not. That's true with any decision you make about anything. But what our committee was tasked with was making the best decision for kids.”
The task force was formed earlier this fall after a public uproar about a kindergartner. A 5-year-old boy at Wilson Elementary was asked to turn his University of Michigan T-shirt inside out.
The boy violated a policy that banned college and professional sports team clothing. Only Oklahoma college apparel was allowed at the 17 district schools that don't require uniforms.
Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Karl Springer temporarily lifted the ban on in September while the task force reviewed the dress code.
The district dress code was last updated in 2005 in cooperation with the Oklahoma City Police Department Gang Task Force. The update was done as a response to national concerns about gangs using clothing from sports teams as membership identification.
The task force was a mix of administrators, teachers, principals, police officers and one student. They voted 15-4 to recommend to the school board to implement a districtwide uniform policy, Kennedy said.
The committee reviewed case law about dress codes and uniform policies, Kennedy said. The group also studied dress codes from similar cities across the country, including Tulsa, Denver and Dallas. Tulsa Public Schools students wear uniforms.
In Oklahoma City, a school can require students to wear uniforms by a vote of the parents, Kennedy said.
If the uniform policy went into effect, that autonomy would remain in some form. Each school would have its own uniform policy.
But the district would have at least one universal uniform accepted at all schools, Kennedy said.
“We have a lot of students who move from school to school to school in the district,” she said. “One of our recommendations will be to have a consistent top and consistent bottom that you can wear at any school in the district.”
If approved by the board, the uniform policy would go into effect for the 2013-14 school year.
But not everyone on the task force supports the idea of a uniform policy.
Huyen Nguyen, a junior at Northwest Classen High School, was the only student on the committee. She voted against the recommendation.
Nguyen's school doesn't require uniforms but adheres to the district dress code, which she said is necessary.
“Without it, a lot of things would get out of control,” she said.
She said uniforms are fine for younger students, but most high school students know how to dress within the rules. Those who don't need to practice when they're in a school setting — not when they could lose a job because of it.
And in a structured environment like a school, clothing is one of the ways students find room to be unique, said Nguyen, wearing a trendy fall sweater and black leggings. Uniforms would curtail that creativity.
“It's hard to express yourself,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen's principal, Brad Herzer, has worked at schools with and without uniforms.
Herzer was also on the task force, and he voted against the uniform recommendation. At Northwest Classen, he said the dress code works. The students are well-behaved and work hard. Requiring uniforms won't change that, he said.
“I just don't think it's necessary,” he said. “ ... The stuff they wear is in dress code. We don't have issues.”
But he said he sees the pros and cons of the issue.
Uniforms could improve school safety by helping adults distinguish between students and nonstudents, Herzer said.
The school is secure during the day, but nonstudents sometimes come into the parking lot after school. For example, a former student tried to start a fight with current students one afternoon this fall.
But for day-to-day discipline problems, he said he doesn't draw the line between uniform and nonuniform schools.
“I don't see a lot of difference,” he said. “I don't know that it improves discipline.”
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How to voice your opinion
The Oklahoma City School Board is expected to collect public comment about whether to require uniforms throughout the district at its next three meetings: Dec. 10, Jan. 7 and Jan. 22. All the meetings begin at 5:30 p.m. at the district administration building, 900 N Klein.
For those who are unable to attend board meetings, comments on the proposed policy can be left with the principal of any district school, spokeswoman Kathleen Kennedy said.
Soon, the public will also be able to leave comments on the district website, okcps.org, she said.
After all the feedback is collected and analyzed, the board will likely vote on the uniform issue in February, Kennedy said.
We have a lot of students who move from school to school to school in the district. One of our recom
mendations will be to have a consistent top and consistent bottom that you can wear at any school in the district.”
Oklahoma City Schools spokeswoman