COEUR d’ALENE — One of the newest trustees on the Coeur d’Alene school board would like to see a mandatory student uniform policy instituted at every school in the district.
Jim Purtee, who was appointed to serve as a trustee in April, pitched the idea at Monday’s school board meeting. He was elected to serve as the board’s vice-chair at the same meeting.
Purtee said he’s promoting uniforms because he feels it’s his duty as a trustee to bring forward ideas and programs that will improve students’ academic results.
“As has been proven, across the country, allowing casual dress is allowing a distraction to the learning environment, so why allow that?” Purtee told The Press on Thursday.
At least one of Purtee’s fellow board members, Tom Hamilton, disagrees. Hamilton, who was elected as board chairman at Monday’s meeting, told The Press he thinks mandatory student uniforms are unnecessary, and said he thinks the process of considering them is “a distraction to the board’s work.”
The board has other priorities right now, Hamilton said. They are working on implementing common core standards as well as procedures required by Idaho’s “Students Come First” education reform laws such as pay-for-performance for teachers and the 1:1 ratio of laptops to students and teachers. There is also a $32.7 million school construction bond election coming up on August 28. Successful passage of the bond will allow the school district to upgrade facilities at several of its aging schools.
Purtee told The Press it’s his opinion that the school district’s new dress code hasn’t been successfully enforced.
Again, Hamilton disagrees.
“I believe the dress code policy work that we did last year is more than adequate, and we need to continue working on uniformly applying and enforcing the dress code,” Hamilton said. “I think it’s a much better use of our time to continue to work on what we already have in place.”
The comprehensive dress policy, enacted during the last school year, bans revealing clothing of any kind, including pants that ride below the waistline and low-cut blouses. Pajamas and sleep wear are also against the rules. Hoods, bandanas, bandana headbands and sunglasses are no longer allowed to be worn in school buildings, and principals can outlaw any type of hat they deem unacceptable.
Purtee said that taking it a step further would be as simple as requiring students to wear a collared polo shirt and khaki pants. The school district has three magnet schools — Lakes, Ramsey and Sorensen — that already require the type of uniform Purtee described.
He points to large, urban school districts in Philadelphia and the Long Beach Unified School District in California, where school uniforms have been required for more than a decade.
Requiring public school students to wear uniforms is definitely a growing trend throughout the nation. Strict dress codes are even more popular.
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics reports that between 1999 and 2009, the number of public school principals reporting that their students are required to wear uniforms rose by 12 percent. In 2009, 19 percent of principals said their schools had a uniform requirement.
The same year, 57 percent of public school principals reported that their schools enforced a strict dress code, reflecting a 47 percent increase over a 10-year period.
Purtee said he knows there will be parents who object to the idea.
“Why? Because of the word ‘uniform,’” Purtee said. “They will ignore the facts that have been shown at school districts from coast to coast.”
In May, parents at one of the Coeur d’Alene School District’s middle schools rejected a mandatory student uniform proposal made by the school administration. Parents were surveyed to see if they would support a uniform policy, and of 683 parents and guardians who responded, 392 (57 percent) opposed the idea. A policy was favored by 263 parents (39 percent).
Woodland Principal Chris Hammons told The Press in May that most parents said they were against mandatory uniforms because they want their children to be able to express themselves freely, and that they felt confident in the school district’s new dress code policy.
In a PowerPoint presentation Purtee presented Monday to the board, he asked: “Is the choice mathematics, English, history, literature, geography, reading...or self expression. What is school supposed to be about?”
Ultimately, it will be the decision of the community whether to require all students to wear uniforms, Purtee said.
“It’s the community’s school district. They can do what they want,” Purtee said. “It’s their children. They can provide lip service to providing better education or they can take a stand.”
To be approved, a policy requiring mandatory student uniforms will have to go through the district’s policy review process which includes committee reviews and a public comment period.
It’s unlikely any changes would be made until the 2013-14 school year, if the board chooses to move forward with a student uniform requirement.
At Monday’s meeting, Purtee made a motion that the board direct Hazel Bauman, the school superintendent, to schedule a board workshop to discuss the dress code policy. The motion carried 3-1 with Hamilton casting the opposing vote. The workshop will likely be scheduled sometime in September or October.
Purtee's PowerPoint presentation to the board can be viewed below.