After nearly a decade requiring districtwide uniforms, Oklahoma City Public Schools may be relaxing the policy in middle and high schools.
The district school board is expected to vote Monday on a proposal that would allow middle and high school students to wear regular clothing subject to a dress code.
Elementary students would continue to wear uniforms as part of the proposal, which the board could approve, change, ignore or reject.
“I think to say that our kids can’t be trusted to wear their own clothes or that they don’t have the same abilities or challenges or creativity or whatever that all other kids have is completely wrong,” said board member Carrie Coppernoll-Jacobs. noted. “Our children are great and we can trust them. It bothers me to see them having to wear uniforms when other kids don’t.
Few public schools in the Oklahoma City metro area require uniforms outside of OKCPS, where students must wear school-colored polo shirts and approved pants, joggers, dresses, sweaters, or skorts .
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The idea of scrapping the uniforms took hold recently when the district temporarily suspended the policy last year. Face-to-face learning was frequently interrupted and students experienced long periods of virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school board’s policy committee regularly reviews existing protocols, and Coppernoll-Jacobs, who chairs the committee, said some question the need for such a strict dress code.
“We had a lot of flexibility for families when we moved back to in-person learning,” Jacobs said. “I’ve had constituents and other board members asking, ‘Why are we playing with uniforms?'”
Why are uniforms required in OKC public schools?
Some district schools implemented uniforms as early as 1994 when President Bill Clinton launched a nationwide campaign for school uniforms to improve student discipline.
Uniforms only became a universal requirement in 2013, when the Oklahoma City School Board voted to extend the policy to all of its schools.
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Concerns about gang activity and related images were central to the school board’s concerns at the time, as was bullying over children’s dress, said Ruth Veales, the only board member in position at the time of the 2013 vote.
Veales vehemently opposes the removal of district-wide politics.
“To be successful in education, you have to eliminate as many negative elements as possible,” she said. “To divert attention from bullying, gang activity, socio-economics, to focus on education.”
Board member Gloria Torres was principal of Capitol Hill High School and Jefferson Middle School in the early 2000s — a time when principals made school-by-school decisions about whether to enforce uniforms.
Torres said she was strongly in favor of implementing them back then, but her stance today is less black and white.
“It was at a time when we were seeing an increase in gang activity and recruitment of our young people,” Torres said. “At that time, it made sense to make uniforms to identify students who should be on our campuses and students who shouldn’t be on our campuses.
“Our environment today has changed.”
Veales disagrees that the old issues are no longer prevalent. She argued that gang activity is still present, especially in communities of color, and that uniforms have helped stem the problem in schools.
“Because the policy was put in place, that’s what controlled it,” Veales said. “Why not look at what worked? »
School board president Paula Lewis said she would not draw a direct link between improving student discipline and the uniform policy.
Other factors have influenced student discipline, primarily a civil rights lawsuit filed against the district in 2014.
A year after the uniform policy was enacted, the federal Civil Rights Office has opened an investigation into allegations that Oklahoma City schools imposed harsher sentences on black and Hispanic students than on white students in the same situation.
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The district has since resolved the complaint, changed its disciplinary policies and added new programs that prioritize student behavioral and mental health, Lewis said.
Uniforms are “one more thing to enforce,” said Lewis, who told The Oklahoman she’d like to see a gender-neutral dress code policy instead.
Schools in Oklahoma City, a district of 34,500 students, have had just 124 uniform incidents this year.
What have OKC public school parents said about the uniforms?
OKCPS mother Macy Martinez said she wanted to wear a uniform while growing up in the Oklahoma City district, like her pre-K daughter does now at Arthur Elementary.
Martinez’s family was struggling financially and couldn’t provide her with several sets of clean clothes, she said. She became the target of bullying when she wore the same outfit to school several times a week.
Although Martinez’s children don’t face the same economic hardship, she said she hopes the district will continue with elementary level uniforms. Dressing up your daughter in the morning could be a nightmare otherwise.
“She beats me for skirts and pants,” Martinez said. “Thank goodness we don’t fight over colors, designs and cartoon characters. For me, I think that’s something that could be a stressor for kids and parents every morning, when it’s not something we need to worry about.
Elizabeth Williams has had few complaints about the uniform policy at Cleveland Elementary, where her son and daughter are in kindergarten and fourth grade, respectively.
Her daughter will be in fifth grade next year, which is considered a middle school grade in Oklahoma City schools.
She would be eager to wear the clothes of her choice.
“She talks a lot about wanting to be able to express herself without having to wear a uniform,” Williams said. “She’s that kind of person and personality.”
Journalist Nuria Martinez-Keel covers K-12 and higher education statewide in Oklahoma. Do you have a story idea for Nuria? She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NuriaMKeel. Support Nuria’s work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at subscribe.oklahoman.com.