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Pinellas ponders mandatory school uniform policy

LARGO - Uniforms could soon be part of life for Pinellas County public school students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Pinellas Superintendent Julie Janssen included the mandatory uniform policy as part of a number of school reforms for next year. A representative for Janssen said the superintendent believes uniforms help keep the focus in the classroom on learning. Twenty-one elementary schools in Pinellas County now have mandatory uniforms, while another 10 schools have an optional provision. No public middle school in the county has mandatory uniforms.
At Walsingham Elementary in Largo, students may wear navy pants, shorts, skorts, skirts, dresses or jumpers, with white or light blue shirts. Third-grade teacher Sandy Lambert said she noticed a difference in students' behavior when the school went to uniforms several years ago. "Anything that can eliminate distractions is good for the teacher, good for the family, for the student, because things are so intense at school right now," Lambert said. And as a parent of twin third-graders she approves of uniforms. "In the mornings it's great because they know exactly what to choose from, they go to the armoire that has just uniforms," she said. "Sunday night I know exactly what laundry to do." Other proponents believe uniforms also make it more difficult for children to judge poor students by their clothing. But not everyone agrees. The American Civil Liberties Union opposes uniforms for public schools. "It is an arbitrary, heavy-handed intrusion into the most fundamental individual rights: the rights of parents to determine how best to rear their children and the right of students to express their individuality, subject only to parental control," said Joyce Hamilton Henry, director of the ACLU's office in Tampa. Heather Robinson's children attend an elementary school that doesn't have uniforms. "They wore uniforms in pre-k and they couldn't change, they like to be able to wear something different every day. I just think they're boring and costly," Robinson said. If the proposed uniform policy is approved by the district's Achievement Committee it will go before the school board for public hearing in November and December.

Reporter Yolanda Fernandez can be reached at (813) 221-5708.

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