Uniforms for students attending a new junior high school this fall are a step closer to reality after William S. Hart Union High School District trustees voted unanimously to allow school officials to submit a plan for final approval next month.
Rochelle Neal, principal of La Mesa Junior High School in Canyon Country, said the uniforms would make the campus safer by eliminating gang-type clothing, reduce clothing costs and improve students' self-esteem by eliminating the peer pressure to wear certain brands or types of clothing.
"We believe students are in school for one purpose and that's for learning," she said at a meeting last week. "We want them dressed in a way that will reinforce that purpose."
La Mesa would become one of the first public schools in California to mandate uniforms if the board of trustees approves the proposal at its June 8 meeting. The proposal appears to have firm support from at least three of the four trustees, although board member William Dinsenbacher said he leans more toward further restricting current dress codes.
If approved, the mandatory uniform program could still face legal challenges from organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which contends students' freedom of choice is restricted by the policy.
Having an alternate plan for the students will be necessary to make the program legal, said Michael von Buelow, director of personnel and pupil services. School officials have said they will allow students to transfer to other area junior high schools.
The state Senate has approved a bill allowing schools to require uniforms. The bill is now being considered by the state Assembly.
Numerous students interviewed at Santa Clarita elementary and junior high schools have said they object to a policy requiring uniforms. But Neal said she received many positive comments from sixth-grade students who will attend La Mesa next year after she explained the reasons for the proposal.
John Tucker, 12, a sixth-grader at Valley View Elementary School, attended last Wednesday's meeting and said he has no objection to the uniforms, but he said other students have teased, and even threatened him, over wearing the "right" clothes.
"Today, someone was bagging on my shorts because they think they're too short," John said, gesturing below his knees. "They're supposed to go way down here."
Neal said it would cost from $100 to $150 to buy several outfits for a student. Clothing choices would include black pants, shorts or skirts. White button-down shirts would be available, plus polo and T-shirts in black, white and teal blue. Sweat shirts, jackets and other clothing items are also being considered.
The cost was debated by some board members who argued students might have to buy more than one set of uniforms during the school year.
"At that age, students quite often change their physical dimensions rapidly, so it could end up costing much more," Dinsenbacher said.
But board member John Hassel said the problem of children outgrowing clothes is nothing new.
"As their sizes change, uniforms or not, the parent would still have to put some clothing on the child," he said.
Neal said businesses, churches and other organizations will be asked to donate money to provide uniforms for families unable to provide them. In addition, students might be able to sell the used uniforms to the school at the end of the year, and it would be provided at reduced cost to needy families.
Uniforms are also being considered for students at Placerita Junior High in Newhall, although no formal action has been taken yet. Officials working on the uniform proposal for La Mesa hope that it will become a pilot program for other area schools.