WHEN an Oklahoma City kindergarten student was told to turn his T-shirt inside out because it violated a school district prohibition against out-of-state collegiate athletic wear, reaction was fast and furious.
News coverage of the August incident came from across the country. It lingered for weeks. Five-year-old Cooper Barton and his University of Michigan shirt became celebrities. The university showered Cooper with attention; he and his family attended a home football game as guests of the school.
It was no surprise when Oklahoma City school officials decided the time had come to revisit the school district's dress code, which had last been updated in 2005 to reflect growing concern over gangs using athletic gear for identification purposes. A task force composed of parents, one student, teachers, principals, central office administrators and police officers is studying the issue. The panel has recommended that the district scrap much of its current dress code and replace it with a districtwide uniform policy. This is an idea worthy of support.
We suspect reaction to the recommendation will be as fast and furious locally as the initial controversy. Public meetings over the next few months and online requests for feedback will give people plenty of opportunity for input. Parents at one school — Classen School for Advanced Studies — are already seeking to mobilize students and parents against the idea.
The school board is expected to vote on the proposal in February. In making the recommendation, task force members told the school board they believed the new policy would address issues of safety, level the economic playing field, eliminate distractions and teach students about appropriate dress.
Task force member Anna King, a graduate of Oklahoma City Public Schools and a longtime district parent, told the board the change would be especially beneficial given the district's highly mobile student population. The task force suggested letting schools choose the uniform colors with at least one common uniform among all schools to help students who change schools, and as they transition from elementary to middle school or middle school to high school.
The arguments the task force put forth in making the recommendation are reasonable. And there's certainly merit to the idea that a dress code policy requiring uniforms districtwide makes more sense than the differing standards now in force throughout the district.
Some parents and students will object that such a policy is unnecessary or punishes rule-following students. This is an understandable reaction. We're less inclined to go along with comments that students need the freedom to choose their dress so they can learn about appropriate dress in preparation for the workforce. Strict dress codes — including uniform requirements — aren't unusual in the workplace. Following whatever rule an employer puts in place is simply a fact of life.
Tulsa Public Schools instituted a districtwide uniform policy this school year, so Oklahoma City could certainly learn from our neighbors about what details are and aren't working and write the final policy accordingly.
We appreciate the efforts of the task force in studying the issue — and for its courage in making a strong recommendation members knew would be controversial. We urge the community and school board members to seriously consider the common-sense recommendation of a districtwide uniform policy.