Anti-Uniform Testimony to New Jersey State Board of Education May 27th, 2015
By Ann Schnakenberg
Good evening, I am here tonight to discuss mandatory school uniforms. It is my sincere hope that this discussion will help to raise awareness of the many problems and pitfalls associated with this important issue that have been plaguing our New Jersey public schools for far too long. School boards need to stop overstepping traditional barriers and interfering in the rights of parents to dress their children as they see fit. This is a parental rights issue, but it is also a state and national issue, and it needs to be addressed.
Corporate inroads that allow special interests and uniform clothing companies access to our public schools and taxpayer funding need to be blocked. Unfair methods, such as school board sponsored advertisements disguised as 'surveys' and the quickie not so public 'public forums' on uniforms that are being employed by school districts to push uniforms on parents across the State of NJ need to stop. American public schools should be free, and no one should be required to purchase a ticket, product, or special clothing to get in. The facts and research on the School Uniform Movement, proves that uniforms fail to do anything at all. Funding directed towards these useless school supplies should be put to better use elsewhere.
A direct conflict exists between the NCLB/No Child Left Behind's FACT based standards and emphasis on "scientifically based research" and the antiquated BELIEF based statutes 18A:11-7 and 18A:11-8. These old statutes need a reboot. They need to be updated so that they can join us here in the Twenty-First Century. Because of these outdated sumptuary laws, districts all across The State of New Jersey are being forced into wasting millions of our tax dollars on these useless 'uniform' school supplies. This has been going on for far too long, and it needs to stop. Our students deserve to have that money spent on progressive FACT based programs and policies that are proven to increase academic grades and standards, instead of these outdated "uniform clothing requirements" that "scientifically based research" like the studies done by Dr. Brunsma have proven to be of absolutely no benefit whatsoever.
Statute 18A:11-7 finds and declares that "many educators BELIEVE that "school dress can significantly influence pupil behavior", and that school's with uniforms "experience greater school pride and improved behavior in and out of the classroom", and that they "assist in controlling the environment in public schools", "facilitate and maintain an effective learning environment", and "keep the focus of the classroom on learning". It should come as no surprise that these anecdotal and belief based claims sound exactly like all of the so called 'surveys' and uniform sales pitches that we have been subjected to in school districts across the state. It is important to note that these phrases as found in this statute are all based upon the BELIEFS of some educators and not the FACTS that are clearly demanded by NCLB/ No Child Left Behind law.
The worst offender of all is statute 18A:11-8. 2b, which is essentially a license to discriminate. This is because according to this particular statute, if a board of education DOES NOT "provide a method whereby parents may choose not to comply with an adopted school uniform policy", (and according to this very statute they don't have to), then a student CAN be "penalized academically or otherwise discriminated against" or even "denied admittance to school if the student's parents choose not to comply with the school uniform policy". I am no lawyer or lawmaker, but it seems pretty obvious that this is one very badly written piece of law.
Any statute that promotes academic penalties, discrimination, and ultimately segregation should not be allowed to stand. Our school and students deserve better. The School Uniform Movement is a social reform movement that should not be given taxpayer money to promote its beliefs. This movement can be linked to the School to Prison Pipeline. Students across the nation are being criminalized over minor secondary dress code and uniform infractions such as not wearing a belt or coming to school in the wrong colored shoes. This is not something we want to see happen in our New Jersey Schools. The Supportive School Climate Act co-signed by Cory Booker addresses this important issue.
Statute 18A:11-8. 2b states, "The board of education MAY provide a method whereby parents may choose not to comply with an adopted school uniform policy. It originally said SHALL. It is my understanding that this statute was originally intended to stop gang-wear and that the wording was changed at the last minute in an effort to force gang ridden areas like Camden etc. into compliance. We need that original mandatory opt-out reinstated by getting the word SHALL put back into its rightful place."
The term "scientifically based research" is mentioned 111 times in NCLB/No Child Left Behind law, but for some reason this emphasis on "scientifically based research" has been overlooked when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of these costly uniform clothing requirements. If only the New Jersey Department of Education and the US Department of Education would simply apply the same practical, critically important, and scientifically based logic of these NCLB standards to school dress code laws, our students would benefit immediately from the billions of tax dollars being wasted on useless uniforms that could then be rerouted towards providing them with the genuine academic supplies that they deserve.