Some Anne Arundel County students may find themselves wearing uniforms if school board members approve a proposed policy on the agenda for the board's next meeting.
The draft policy would allow principals - after consulting with parent groups - to replace the district-wide dress code with uniforms they choose.
Some Annapolis-area schools and parents have expressed interest in school uniforms as a way to promote discipline, said Superintendent Eric J. Smith.
"I think if school communities are interested, then we need to ... define the process of how they would be considered," Smith said.
In 1995, several Anne Arundel elementary schools piloted a school uniform program, and the county has uniform policies at its two alternative schools, which serve students who have posed repeated discipline problems. But there is no district-wide policy regarding uniforms.
Supporters say that uniforms promote school unity and reduce discipline problems by reducing competition, safety hazards and distractions within the classroom - allowing students to focus on learning. For parents, uniforms may be attractive because they "help to control costs and morning arguments over dress," Smith said.
Some schools chose uniforms in Smith's former school district in Charlotte, N.C., which had a similar school-based policy, he said. And nationwide, school districts such as Long Beach, Calif., have instituted school uniform policies district-wide. However, "we're not headed in that direction," Smith said.
"My view is we should be in a position to support those schools that choose to go that way," he said.
Around the region, some schools in Baltimore County have uniforms, officials there said. Nearly all schools in the city of Baltimore have a mandatory policy established at the school level by parents, school administrators and students, said spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt.
Harford County allowed schools to establish a voluntary policy after questions were raised about restricting students' right to free expression, said spokesman Donald R. Morrison. However, he said few students adhere to the policy at the two schools that chose uniforms.
Few cases testing the constitutionality of mandatory school uniforms exist, said attorney P. Tyson Bennett, who represents the Anne Arundel school board and has been researching the issue.
An appellate court decision from a Louisiana school district stated that school uniforms did not violate students' first amendment rights because schools showed they had valid reasons to implement them, Bennett said - to improve achievement and reduce discipline problems, not to deter expression.
In Anne Arundel County, the Code of Student Conduct exhorts students to wear clothing appropriate for the learning environment and includes regulations for suitable school-day attire. The restrictions prohibit, for example, hats, hoods, chains and clothing worn in such a way that reveals "underwear or bare skin between the upper chest and mid-thigh."
Under the proposed uniform rules, administrators at each school would work with parents' groups and, on the high school level, with students to select the uniform and set rules and exemptions.
After developing a policy at a school, parents would be surveyed to determine how many supported uniforms. If 70 percent of the school's parents respond to the survey - and 80 percent of those responding were in favor - then the plan would be submitted to the superintendent for approval.
The proposal, originally on the agenda for the meeting that was canceled because of snow Wednesday night, is scheduled to be considered at the board's Feb. 2 meeting.