School Uniforms Possible?

Students at seven Henrico County public schools currently wear school uniforms on a voluntary basis, but could mandatory uniform policies be on their way?

Officials at 11 Henrico schools have expressed strong interest in initiating mandatory uniform programs, and the county’s School Board last week heard preliminary plans about how such programs eventually could be considered.

Mandatory uniforms could enhance the sense of safety and community at schools and foster better learning environments, according to the principals of the schools interested in the plan.

School system officials intend to create a survey that could be used by any school interested in exploring the possibility of voluntary or mandatory uniform programs. Surveys would be sent to parents and staff members at each such school, and if a strong majority (perhaps 80 percent to 85 percent) at a specific school supported such a plan, the idea could advance for additional consideration, Executive Director of Elementary Education Pam Bell told the board last week.

School officials would seek business partners in the community willing to supplement the cost of uniforms for students who couldn’t afford them, Bell said. Officials also would hold staff and community forums to discuss the idea, then brief the School Board, which could choose to vote to approve or reject the idea – or vote to authorize individual school principals to implement mandatory uniform programs at their schools.

Surveys are expected to be distributed this month or next to parents and staff members at the 11 schools that have expressed interest so far, Bell said. The list includes all seven schools where voluntary policies currently exist: among them, Adams, Ashe, Glen Lea, Highland Springs and Laburnum elementaries. If applicable, community forums could be held in January, with possible School Board deliberations in February and a vote in March, Bell said.

A mandatory uniform policy need not be district-wide, and the board has not expressed an interest in establishing a blanket policy. Its consideration of a timeline for considering mandatory policies at certain schools resulted from requests by principals at the 11 schools in question. Many of those schools have already discussed the idea with their PTAs.

School Board attorney Melissa Velazquez told the board during its Oct. 29 meeting month that it could allow principals to make uniforms mandatory at their own schools, provided they followed School Board-authorized protocol to reach their decisions (such as achieving the required positive response levels from surveys).

The School Board also would have to establish consequences for students who fail to wear uniforms at schools at which mandatory programs are approved, Velazquez said.

Though some positives could result from mandatory uniforms, there is a possible flip side as well. Uniforms could prove too expensive for some families and could reduce students’ sense of individualism and freedom of expression, Bell said.
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