CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — For Veronica Castillo, a mother of five, school uniforms have been a “blessing.”
With four children in the Central Falls School District, the move to uniforms made her life easier. The early morning battles over outfit choices ended. Money she budgeted for back-to-school clothing shopping could be redirected toward school supplies.
And her 9-year-old son Andy, who was being picked on for not wearing the latest Jordans, no longer worried boarding the bus to school.
More importantly, she knew her kids were focusing on learning — not their appearance.
“Uniforms create equality among the students,” she said. “They’re judged by what they say rather than how much money they have.”
School uniforms, usually associated with private or religious schools, have been moving into the public realm since President Clinton endorsed the idea in his 1996 State of the Union address.
Castillo represents the positive side of a movement toward school uniforms in Rhode Island’s public schools; one that was reflected by the parents of the Central Falls High School students that petitioned the General Assembly in 2013 to permit the school board to adopt a dress code.
But, not all parents and educators feel this way. Woonsocket piloted a mandatory uniform policy in 2010, but later ended it after parents and principals complained. It was too difficult to enforce among high school students, they said at the time.
In Cumberland, the school committee is working with members of student government to make their dress code policy less restrictive, said Mark Fiorillo, member of the committee.
Here’s a look at where dress code policies stand in the state:
— The Providence Public School district has experimented with a voluntary school uniform. Currently, 17 out of 22 elementary schools participate in the program, said Laura Hart, a spokesperson for the district.
Each school’s policy varies. At Harry Kizirian Elementary School uniforms are “strongly encouraged,” but not mandatory. Although, kids have an incentive: the class with the best compliance wins a pizza party at the end of the quarter.
The uniforms are simple: blue or white shirts, with navy blue, black, or tan pants, shorts or skirts. Shorts and skirts must be longer than a student’s full stretched hand when standing, according to the school’s website.
Roger Williams Middle School is a bit stricter. Students are expected to show up in uniform: a maroon or black top, with khaki or black bottoms, and closed toe shoes.
Ultimately, it comes down to how educators feel at each individual school, said Superintendent Chris Maher.
“The decision to adopt uniforms really depends on the individual school, and whether the school leadership and families believe that uniforms will have a positive impact on classroom culture,” he said.