Five Anne Arundel County schools are exploring the idea of having students wear uniforms as a way to improve student behavior and academic performance, but the announcement yesterday caught the county school board by surprise.
Principals at Park and Quarterfield elementaries said they are eager to try uniforms and that parents support the idea. Linthicum and Windsor Farm elementaries and Magothy River Middle School are talking with parents.
Nancy Almgren, vice chairman of the Countywide Citizens Advisory Council, which has been studying the issue, recommended that the board consider a pilot project. Students modeled uniforms, including a golf shirt and shorts; sweat pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt; and slacks and a cardigan sweater.
"The dress code seems to be out of control," said Mrs. Almgren. "We've had a lot of complaints from parents. One parent brought shirts to an advisory council meeting that had phrases on them that you couldn't print in a newspaper. Uniforms are also a way to reduce the differences between students from different socioeconomic levels."
Del. Joanne C. Benson, a Democrat from Prince George's County, joined the council's presentation and said the switch to uniforms had improved life at John Bayne Elementary School in District Heights, where she had been principal.
"The fighting stopped," she said. "After they started wearing uniforms, the academic levels increased, attendance increased, and parents became involved."
She said children who are dressed up "have a tendency to behave in a different way."
Afterward, board member Joseph H. Foster told Mrs. Almgren and Ms. Benson, "Philosophically, I find this hard to accept, but I'm intrigued by the academic aspect. I'd like to see some definite facts on schools and school performance."
Student board member Terry Gilleland was upset to learn the advisory council subcommittee had not consulted student or teacher groups.
"I do feel we have a drastic need for a dress code, and that's why I've been fighting for one for three months, though I haven't gotten anywhere," he said. "But I am an opponent of uniforms because because I feel they violate the constitutional protection of freedom of expression."
Participation would be voluntary. Principals at Park and Quarterfield say students who could not afford uniforms would be provided with them. It has not been determined who would pay for those uniforms.
Edward Holshey, principal at Magothy River Middle, said the school's advisory council wants to spend the summer studying the issue and let parents discuss it at "Back to School Night" in September.
"Some of us feel uniforms could be a very positive thing for kids," Mr. Holshey said. "It gives them a good sense of school spirit and stops conflicts over clothes between different socioeconomic groups. But it will be up to the parents if we try it."
The board will hear more about uniforms at its June 21 meeting.