School Uniforms, Dress Codes & Book Bags

National School Safety and Security Services receives a number of inquiries regarding the issue of school uniforms , dress codes, book bag control, and their role in improving school safety and security.  Although we believe that no single strategy is a panacea for improving school safety, we do believe that school uniforms, dress codes, and book bag control can contribute toward improving the school climate.  School climate, of course, can play a significant role in reducing security threats and improving school safety.

Uniforms and Dress Codes

School officials have a responsibility to provide a safe, secure, and productive learning environment.  Dress and appearance play a role in doing so.  Although we do not support violating the law, including the legal rights of others, we do believe that properly implemented policies and strategies around dress and appearance are within the realm of reasonable actions which can be taken by school officials to promote a positive school climate.

Dress codes and uniforms can help reduce the potential for conflict by;

1.  Reducing conflict stemming from socio-economic status, i.e., conflicts stemming from comments and personal attacks about who has better clothing and so on.

2.  Reducing ways in which gang members can identify themselves which, in essence, is a form of intimidation and creates fear.

3.  Reduces the risk of students being robbed to and from school, or for that matter in school, of expensive clothing, jewelry, etc.

4.  In the case of uniforms, could help school administrators identify non-students, trespassers, and other visitors in the hallways who stand out in the crowd.

These are general observations and, of course, there are exceptions.  For example, one group of students told us that although they had uniforms, the school policy did not specify specific types of uniforms, so some students wore very expensive dark pants and light shirts, while others wore less expensive ones, and the status reduction argument was thus moot. Of course, there are also many ways for gang members to identify themselves in addition to dress, too, so uniforms do not eliminate gangs or all of their ways to identify.  Still, the fact that there are some glitches and ways to beat the system should not shoot down the entire concept.

Student and parent input should be received on the front-end of implementing such policies, especially school uniforms. Anecdotal information suggests that such involvement reduces non-compliance and increases ownership into the program. Ironically, once implemented, many students and staff are pleased with uniforms, for example, and parents are also pleased with the idea that they are often cheaper than common popular clothing, plus they do not have the hassle with their children each day of dealing with “what to wear” to school.

Do dress codes and uniforms violate freedom of expression opportunities? We think that this argument is quite weak. Students are free to dress as they and their parents choose during non-school hours. They also need to realize that dress codes and uniforms are a reality of the workplace in the adult world including in professional offices, retail and food stores, delivery services, government offices and service providers such as post offices, public safety employers, and so on.

Although we would question whether uniforms or dress codes alone are responsible for major school crime reductions, our anecdotal information, experiences, and observations in the field suggest that they do improve school climate.

Book Bags/Backpacks

Should schools go to clear or see-through book bags? Should they eliminate book bags?

We do not believe that clear book bags will guarantee that weapons will not make it into the school or classroom. Someone could still carry weapons on his or her person, which is what we anticipate individuals chosing to bring a weapon to school might do.  Individuals could also wrap a weapon on the inside of the book bag where it would not be readily seen.  We also hear complaints that clear book bags create a privacy concern for students carrying personal hygiene items. We do tend to find that schools instituting clear book bags often do so as a knee-jerk reaction to weapons issues in their schools, and that doing so results more in having “security theater” (to make people “feel” safe or that something is being done) than in having an effective weapons reduction strategy.

More importantly, requiring students to leave book bags in their lockers during the school day reduces the risks of conflicts arising from hallway horseplay, bumping of other students with book bags, and similar dynamics that often lead to fights and altercations, including those where weapons may be used.  This requirement, in our opinion, balances out legitimate needs to have book bags for carrying large numbers of books home while still reducing the potential for conflicts, especially in schools with tight hallways and stairwells.  It also teaches students to plan ahead several periods — and an ability to plan is a necessity for survival in the adult business and personal worlds!

For additional information contact our president, Ken Trump.