Children enter public school classrooms with disparate levels of parental support, income, intelligence and motivation. Knowing these differences, some District educators are wondering if equal clothing could provide some equal footing.
On Saturday, D.C. Board of Education member Wilma Harvey (Ward 1) will hold a public meeting on the possibility of instituting uniforms or a dress code in the city.
"I have been questioned very intensely" about the school board's plans for a uniform, Harvey said, adding that she will not form an opinion before Saturday. The meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. on the second floor of the Reeves Municipal Building, 14th and U streets NW, is one of a series of public hearings on various subjects planned by Harvey.
According to uniform advocates, today's children are so clothes-conscious that the halls of learning have become runways for the strutting of modish finery. Because style has far surpassed scholarship in status, children exhaust themselves and family funds on the quest for lavish clothing, some adults have argued.
Last September, students at Burrville Elementary in Northeast began wearing uniforms, and Principal Walter Henry has termed the policy a success. Another Northeast elementary school, J.O. Wilson, introduced uniforms in January, and others, including River Terrace and Smothers elementary schools, will start next year.
Gloria Heyison of the Top Uniform Co., supplier to many area parochial schools, said she was surprised to receive the initial call from Burrville, but has found children "so excited it's unbelievable" on uniform delivery day.
A prominent argument made for the subdued plaids and simple styles of uniforms is their low price compared with high fashion. The approximate cost for two jumpers, a sweater, three blouses and five pairs of knee socks is $95; for a boy's belt, five pairs of socks, three pairs of pants, a sweater and three shirts, the cost is about $105, Heyison said. Most of the clothes are Dacron and cotton, and "everything is washable," she said.
Harvey has invited Heyison to the public meeting, along with Mazie Holland, a Ward 1 resident whose twin daughters left the Catholic school at which they wore uniforms for a public school in ninth grade. According to Holland, the girls were overwhelmed by the clothing competition, and their grades, concentration and self-esteem slumped.
Though the girls had always had a strong sense of self, they "allowed their own values to be dismantled," Holland said. And because she refused to spend exorbitant funds for clothing, "they were feeling out of it."
Holland's oldest daughter had gone through high school in a parochial school uniform, and, her mother said, her mind "wasn't clouded by 'What will I wear today?' " As a result, Holland said, her daughter excelled in school and entered college.
Holland said she believes that because strict uniform policies prohibit jewelry and accessories, youngsters would be less tempted to deal in crime and drugs to accommodate excessive tastes.
In other area public school systems, four sites -- magnet schools in Prince George's County -- require uniforms. Representatives of the Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax and Montgomery public schools said uniforms are not under consideration.
Art Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, said the organization has received some inquiries regarding uniforms from area parents. "There has been some thought, and some discussion, but we've set no policy yet," Spitzer said.
Spitzer said the organization realizes the practicality of uniforms, but noted that the D.C. Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination against individuals because of appearance, including attire. The law allows employers to impose uniforms on employees, but does not specifically mention schoolchildren, Spitzer said.