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Bill would mandate school uniforms

February 17, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- It's common knowledge in some schools: As the temperature rises, so do the skirts.

However, a bill being considered in the Maryland General Assembly aims to move hemlines toward the knees by requiring students statewide to wear uniforms.

The bill was heard Tuesday in the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee. No action was taken.

Skirts and shorts that are too short, and clothing with risqué messages or vulgar pictures are banned as part of the Washington County Public Schools dress code.

At Boonsboro High School, students who do not adhere to the school's dress code are given a choice. They can either change clothes, cover themselves with a school-issued shirt so large that it could pass for a dress or risk detention, according to Principal Marty Green.

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Most choose to change clothes, but the shirt also is a deterrent to dressing inappropriately at school, he said. The lime-green shirt has the message "Support the Dress Code" on the back.

Green said students learn quickly not to wear shirts bearing images of marijuana leaves, Confederate flags or other possibly offensive images when they realize they'll have to wear the large, bright shirt.

"The kids don't want to wear (the shirts) so they adhere to the dress code," Green said.

Green said the issue of school uniforms should probably be decided by individual counties.

Washington County School Board President Wayne D. Ridenour agreed, and said that right now he sees no need for uniforms to be required locally.

"In my opinion, it's unnecessary," Ridenour said. "There's no real need for it. It's not something we wouldn't consider. I'm just not sure this is a battle I want to fight right now."

Washington County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Donna Hanlin said she did not know enough about the bill regarding uniforms to discuss it.

Green said he also worried about how parents and schools would pay for uniforms if state lawmakers require students to wear them.

Del. Marvin E. Holmes Jr., D-Prince George's, who sponsored the bill to require uniforms, said Tuesday that the bill's language is a bit ambiguous, but he would amend it to clarify that his intent was to require school uniforms statewide.

He said parents would be required to pay for the uniforms under his plan, and families who cannot afford it could receive assistance from the schools.

Holmes said local teachers asked him for the bill, saying uniforms would eliminate some distractions for students.

Several students spoke Tuesday in opposition to the bill, saying uniforms would restrict their freedom of expression and citing past criticism of attempts to mandate uniforms.

Green said there might be a need for uniforms in some school systems. He said dress-code violations at Boonsboro High are more common at the beginning or end of the school year when the weather is warm.

Issues regarding clothing could be more serious at other schools, though, Green said. He's heard of students being assaulted for wearing expensive shoes, and lawmakers Tuesday questioned whether some students were being bullied because of their clothing.

Green said that adhering strictly to the school system dress code already in place helps keep things "from getting out of hand."

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