The School Uniform Debate

by | News

Dressing for a level playing field

The single, most contentious issue a school may debate is the introduction of uniforms. The student response is usually a predictable, unanimous and loud rejection; parents can be equally vehement, yet divided, in their stance.

Consideration of a school uniform policy nearly fractured the parent community of the Calgary Science School (Grades 4 to 9) beyond repair in 2000, according to school administrator Ron Sweet. “We needed to look at what our school is all about,” says Sweet. “We want to honour diversity and see this as a huge advantage, particularly in science, where the more unique ways to look at a problem the better.”

The school community agreed that fostering individual strengths and creativity would be counteracted by eliminating personal style. “How could we encourage students to think differently yet demand they all dress the same?” Sweet asks. “We continue with a traditional dress code and expect students to make suitable choices, but we will definitely not entertain the uniform debate again.”

During that same year, Glenmore Christian Academy (kindergarten to Grade 9) was also embroiled in the uniform debate. “The idea of uniforms bubbled up from the parents for the first time in the mid-80’s,” remembers Cheryl Miller, GCA administrator and one of the few individuals who has been with the school since its inception twenty five years ago. The vote for uniforms W’!S narrowly defeated then, and again five or six years later. “The process was slow,” says Miller, “but there was a growing acceptance that uniforms might be the way to go.” The most compelling issue for GCA parents was the high cost of designer labels and their influence, particularly in the junior high. The desire to be trendy was costly and contradictory to the school’s Christian philosophy. In 2000, parents approved a new uniform policy.

There was initial concern that uniforms would introduce an element of elitism to the school, but Miller has found that, instead, the uniforms have leveled the playing field. “With everyone wearing the same thing, we don’t pay attention to the clothes, but stress individuality in terms of personhood.”

Amanda Vogeli, now 16 and a graduate of GCA, agrees. “Clothing shouldn’t determine who your friends are,” she says. “I was in grade six when suddenly everyone was talking about uniforms. At the time, the kids really disliked the idea, but everyone adapted.” Personally, Vogeli didn’t mind the change: Dressing for school was quick and easy, and fitting in didn’t depend on what she was wearing. Even at ten years old, Vogeli sensed a difference within the school that year. “The atmosphere became more academic. We really felt that we were there to learn,” she recalls. The uniform quickly became a palpable reminder of the school’s expectations.

Both Miller and Sweet stress that it is important for parents to understand a school’s uniform policy or dress code before committing to that institution. “When parents select a school, they are buying into the entire package,” says Miller. The significance of a uniform policy is an individual opinion and can be an important factor in selecting the right school for your family.