Parents and officials in the Hueneme Elementary School District on Monday discussed a proposal to require students to wear conservative uniforms in an effort to steer them away from gang attire.
Considering uniforms for its two middle schools, the district also wants to provide an inexpensive clothing alternative and dress up the halls of academia, said Jeffrey Baarstad, the district's business manager.
"We're trying to communicate to students that school is an important place," Baarstad said.
If the proposal is approved, Hueneme would be the only district in Ventura County requiring uniforms. Of the 8,000 schools in the state, probably four or five ask students to wear a uniform, a state school official said.
Last week, the district mailed a survey to parents of 1,650 students at Green and Blackstock middle schools, explaining the proposal and soliciting support. Baarstad said the 335 parents who responded were in favor by a 3-to-1 margin.
"If a great majority of kids and parents support the idea, we can accomplish it," Baarstad said.
Despite the apparent backing of most parents, some students belittled the proposal.
"We'll look like dorks," said Sean Lawheed, a seventh-grader at E. O. Green Middle School, after school Monday.
Decked out in blue jeans and striped T-shirt, Lawheed cringed when he imagined himself in khakis and polo shirt, the proposed boys' uniform.
"I don't think anything's wrong with my clothes now," Lawheed said.
A mother of a Green student, however, liked the idea of uniforms because they "discourage stereotyping of people by their clothing," Lynda Belchere said at the meeting Monday.
Even if the community is totally behind the proposal, compliance would only be on a voluntary basis, said Susie Lange, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.
"You can't require parents to buy a uniform at a public school," she said.
In Baltimore, elementary schools have had great success putting students in uniforms, said Judson Wood, ombudsman for Baltimore city public schools. The program, which has been in effect since 1988, is being implemented at 120 of 122 elementary schools.
"It has developed a sense of pride and discipline in kids and school spirit," Wood said.
But Wood, a former principal, doesn't think uniforms will work at a middle school and "will be almost impossible in high school."
Students entering seventh grade "will rebel" against uniforms, he said. "They don't want anyone telling them what to wear. They're at a developmental stage in which they're beginning to say who they are. They want to be individuals. They're into creativity."
Hueneme's proposal originated last month during a 2 1/2-hour staff meeting to revise the district's 15-year-old dress code, Baarstad said. The proposal is only a trial balloon to "raise consciousness and see the reaction," he said.
Admitting that the uniform look was designed by "a bunch of adults over 40," Baarstad is inviting students to come up with a more fashionable design. Aside from the boys' uniform, girls would have to wear culottes and skirts--items seldom seen on MTV.
"It's a problem," said Green seventh-grader April Derrickson, wearing a black T-shirt and jeans. "My friends and I don't feel comfortable with it."
The district estimates the annual cost of the uniforms at $150, which would pay for three pants or skirts, five shirts and a sweat shirt. Although most students and parents probably pay more for a school wardrobe of their own choosing, student Aaron Beck derided spending money on a uniform.
"It's cheaper than normal clothing," said Aaron, a seventh-grader at Green, "but we're only going to be wearing it for a year. It's not like we're going to do anything with this stuff after we graduate. Or wear it in public."
April said she did see some advantages to a uniform. "You don't have to wake up in the morning and pick out what to wear," she said.
Eric Hicks, a Green eighth-grader, sported a baggy T-shirt and a buzz haircut. "I dress like this because I'm a (skateboarder)," he said. "I kick back at the beach every day. And I still get good grades."
Baarstad said officials don't expect uniforms to raise IQs or elevate behavior. "We're not saying if you put everyone in polo shirts they'll behave like angels," he said.
But the uniforms would give students a new perspective about school, he said, adding: "They would have a different attitude than if they were going to the beach."