LONG BEACH : Board OKs Exemptions on School Uniforms

Parents may exempt their children from the Long Beach School District's mandatory uniform policy for elementary and middle schools, the school board decided recently.

Guidelines approved by the board rely mostly on incentives, such as pizza parties, to enforce the policy. They also ensure that no student will be suspended, expelled or receive a lower grade for refusing to wear a uniform. Students whose families cannot afford to buy uniforms and students who refuse to wear them for religious reasons also are exempt from the policy.

Board members said uniforms will instill academic pride and make schools safer by reducing gang attire. The board wanted to require all students to wear the uniforms, but said their hands were tied by a bill awaiting Gov. Pete Wilson's signature. The bill allows districts to require uniforms but also allows parents who object to uniforms to have their children exempted.

Students will begin wearing uniforms in September at the district's 70 elementary and middle schools. Penalties for not wearing a uniform, if they are necessary, will begin Oct. 14. They may include detention and trash pickup, officials said. In the 19 schools that already have uniform policies, district officials say that 90% of the students wear uniforms even without the threat of penalties.

A group of parents who consider mandatory school uniforms a violation of students' rights to free expression have insisted that the uniforms be voluntary. The group filed for an injunction against the policy in federal court in May, but it was denied until the district passed its guidelines for enforcing the policy.

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