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Another anti-fashion statement for students

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Students at Wildwood Elementary School will have at least one less item to mull in the mornings when school starts this fall.

What to wear has already been decided.

Navy blue or khaki pants and white shirts are the options as the school becomes the fifth in the Federal Way Public Schools system to have a uniform.

And while this fashion repetition could cause some adults’ inner 8-year-old to groan and stomp their feet, school officials say many students prefer not having to worry about their duds for the day.

Tom Capp, the school’s former principal, said the decision to go with uniforms came after a leadership team at the school proposed the move. The team is made up of parents and educators.

School uniforms have been an increasingly popular move for public schools and districts across the nation for more than a decade. Schools in southern California, generally considered the origin of uniforms, have touted them as bringing decorum to classes and reducing fights over fashion because everyone has the same colors and similar styles.

While there is anecdotal information supporting uniforms improving discipline, Capp said some research questions how much they are contributing to improved student behavior.

But for Capp, the issue is more than just halting the bickering over who is wearing the latest trends.

“Bottom line: I’m just tired of students dressing inappropriately for school,” he said.

Some high school students have told Capp they wished uniforms had been required at their schools so they knew “how to dress” when entering the workforce, he said.

None of Federal Way’s high schools have uniform policies.

Uniforms are considered at schools if a request comes from parents or staff, said Mark Demick, former principal at Sunnycrest Elementary School. The year-round school was one of the first in the district with a uniform policy.

Getting the teachers to agree to the idea is key, Capp said. If the teachers are not interested in the plan, it’s not going to work. Ninety-eight percent of the teachers at Wildwood agreed with uniforms, he reported.

The colors, with some modifications, are similar in all Federal Way schools. Mark Twain and Valhalla elementary schools have uniform policies, as does Totem Middle School.

The uniform policy is generally the same at the schools. Students leave their jeans at home along with hats. Shirts that are not uniform colors stay in the closet or drawer. The schools specify when jackets can be worn –– typically only outside. There is some deviation when it gets to sweaters and wearing school-specific clothing. Some schools have a certain day of the week –– generally Friday –– when students can wear shirts and sweaters with the school’s logo or name. Shorts and skirts are allowed but must be a certain length and the specified colors. Clothing cannot have any logos, even small stitched ones like Ralph Lauren or a tiny Nike swoosh.

Most jewerly is prohibited except for earrings and some rings. Hair color must be natural or a dye that isn’t considered too wild. Save volcanic yellow for summer.

Students who violate the uniform policy are given a chance to fix the problem themselves, Demick said. A stash of clothes was kept at Sunnycrest for students to change into if they didn’t meet the criteria. Parents are contacted if their child is not complying with the uniform rules, or that what they purchased is unacceptable.

Students required to wear certain garments for religious or cultural reasons are granted waivers from the schools’ dress codes, said Deb Stenberg, a spokeswoman for the school district.

Some students and their parents decide the uniform policy is not for them, Capp said. They can enroll in a school without a uniform policy.

He recounted a student who transferred from Sunnycrest for that reason and has moved from other schools when a uniform is implemented.

Having to buy two wardrobes cuts into some families’ budgets, and schools work with them, Demick said. A uniform recycle program is promoted, and sometimes a private school or department store donates clothes.

Sunnycrest also has a laundry facility to help parents and students keep uniforms clean, especially low-income families struggling to make ends meet.

Demick was a convert to uniforms after coming to Sunnycrest. While a vice principal at Woodbrook Middle School in the Clover Park School District, Demick handled discipline issues. Whether it was one student having a pair of shoes or a shirt another wanted, gang colors and attire at school, or someone getting hazed for their clothes lacking in the cool factor, Demick dealt with problmes involving the clothes on students’ backs.

Still, he wasn’t sure if uniforms were a good idea when he went to Sunnycrest. He quickly became convinced.

“From the discipline standpoint of things, you don’t see the problems with clothing,” he said, adding he never dealt with a conflict over clothes at Sunnycrest.

Requiring uniforms takes away clothes being a status symbol and showing who comes from a wealthy family and who does not, he said, adding that three of his students wrote in their graduation essays they liked the uniforms for that reason.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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