Board considers school uniforms

The Baltimore Sun

Harford County public school officials are exploring the possibility of mandatory uniforms for students.

One of the goals listed in the school's five-year strategic plan is to conduct an inquiry about uniforms in Harford schools. For more than 10 years, the school system has allowed individual schools to enact voluntary uniform policies, but no Harford County schools require students to wear uniforms.

The Board of Education recommended completing a report on uniforms by December. The report would include comments from the student government, the PTSA, PTA, student services and administrators.

Mark Wolkow, school board president, expects the process to take some time.

"By no means is it a done deal," Wolkow said. "We want to gather together the stakeholders -- parents, students, staff -- and we'll move forward to see what the best course is."

Board member Patrick Hess said he is a staunch supporter of school uniforms.

"It helps us with security," Hess said. "It would allow an administrator to look down the hallway and be able to tell who should be there and who should not.

"It's going to equalize the haves and have-nots," he said. "It might also minimize the cliques so kids interact with each other better."

With discussions in preliminary stages, there are no details of what uniforms might look like.

When asked what she thought about mandatory uniforms, Jennifer Malkus, an eighth-grader at Fallston Middle School, said, "I like to wear what I want to wear. I would get kind of bored with wearing the same thing every day."

James Pritts, a sophomore at Aberdeen High School, prefers to select his own wardrobe.

"Picking your clothing is an important choice for teens," Pritts said. "It's the way to express yourself and your mood."

The teenagers' reactions didn't surprise board member Ruth Rich. After talking to students and parents at PTSA and PTA meetings in the North Harford area, she said she was more surprised that some teenagers favored mandatory uniforms.

"I think what happens is sometimes fashion becomes such a challenge," she said. "There's some kids who are not able to keep up with the latest fashion. It becomes, 'Who's wearing what today?' instead of 'What am I going to learn today?'"

In April, the student government body -- the Harford County Regional Association of Student Councils -- voted in favor of uniforms.

Jennifer Cook, the student representative to the school board whose term ends this month, also backs mandatory uniforms. She, along with two other students, voiced their support at a board meeting last month.

"Clothes are only one-dimensional," she said. "There are more effective ways to expression, such as speech and action."

Debora Merlock, president of the Greater Edgewood Education Foundation, former vice president of the Harford County Council of PTAs and a mother of four public school students, said she would prefer a dress code with clothing that fits into a child's everyday wardrobe rather than uniforms.

"If I thought uniforms would increase school pride, student achievement and attendance, I might support them, but research I have read doesn't support that," she said.

"Uniforms would be an additional expense for parents, too," she said.

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