Hampstead school is starting voluntary uniform program

Effectiveness of policies is untested, educator says

August 11, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A casual conversation at a birthday party more than a year ago could produce a wave of tan-and-red clothing at Hampstead Elementary School this month when it becomes Carroll County's first public school where pupils can wear uniforms.

The county Board of Education is to hear a report on the plan for the voluntary student uniform program at its regular meeting today.

"Basically, it was a grass-roots movement," said Rosemary Reginaldi, treasurer of Hampstead Elementary School PTA, who has three children at the school.

Fifty-five percent of the 460 postcards sent with a survey to parents last month were returned, she said. The 254 responses showed 200 in favor, 51 opposed, and three undecided.

"Based on that, we're going ahead with plans for the uniforms," Reginaldi said.

The uniforms will be khaki shorts or slacks, plus shorts, skirts, skorts or jumpers for girls. Tops will be red polo shirts, mock turtleneck sweaters, sweaters or sweat shirts. A list of local stores and catalogs that will provide the clothing is being prepared.

Reginaldi said she's had an inquiry from Carroll County Council of PTAs, saying other schools were interested.

Reginaldi said she was picking her daughter up from a birthday party in April 1998 when the birthday girl's mother asked her, " `Why can't we have uniforms?' That's how it started.

"But we never got an answer from the school administration, and it was sort of put on the back burner," she said, until Superintendent William H. Hyde held a town meeting in Hampstead in May and encouraged the group to look into the level of community support for the idea.

The school doesn't t have disciplinary problems or pupils who wear outrageous clothing, she said, but parents favor the idea because of the ease of getting children dressed in the morning, and to reduce visual distraction and peer pressure.

"People need to get to know someone before they get pigeonholed, through writing, artwork, music and overall personality and character, rather than clothing," Reginaldi said.

Some older students expressed interest, she said, after the April 20 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.

She said she thinks uniforms can improve discipline, morale and grades at schools, and noted that private and parochial schools have used them for years.

The parents who objected to uniforms said children should have freedom of choice, that clothing is a way of expressing individuality, and that if they wanted their children to wear a uniform they would have sent them to a private school, she said.

"Of course, that makes an enormous amount of difference if it is voluntary," said Susan Goering, executive director of the Maryland affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Legally, there's not much to stop a school system from doing it."

The ACLU has had no complaints recently, she said, but occasionally gets calls. She said the policy could raise questions about students' right to expression.

Monica Smith, principal at Hampstead Elementary, said she would wait to see the policy in action before passing judgment.

Baltimore County has 16 schools with uniform policies, but none is mandatory, said spokesman Charles A. Herndon III. Most are started by parents. No one has complained, he said.

"I'm not aware of any research that has been done on uniforms, per se," said Sandy Shepherd, a specialist in the school-community outreach office of the State Department of Education.

The movement for uniforms in public schools probably would require at least another year to study, she said. "But some folks feel that it contributes overall to a safer environment."

Sun staff writer David L. Greene contributed to this article.

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