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Uniform policy update for 2019 school year

From our principal Ben Ostrom, here is his update to the uniform policies at the school that will take effect the start of the 2019 school year.

Background on uniforms at Louisa Boren STEM K-8

Uniform policies can provide benefits to students, families, and schools.  Uniforms were adopted at the opening of K-5 STEM because they aligned with the goals of a new school, and pointed towards a new shared identity and focus on STEM learning.  As Louisa Boren STEM K-8 has grown to include a continuum of programs and grades pre K-8th, the outcomes of our uniform policy became more complex. I encourage you to read the information below to understand the final decision regarding uniforms, the issues and discussion involved, and join us in the ongoing collaboration of community, staff, and students that makes Louisa Boren STEM K-8 great!

Summary and Decision

Questions were raised about STEM K-8’s uniform policy regarding equity, body image, identity, gender issues, race, culture, self-expression, and sensory needs. Furthermore, for many staff uniform enforcement negatively affected student relationships and efforts to create a welcoming environment. After student and family input, and a staff vote, STEM K-8 will not have a required uniform next year.  We will follow the standard SPS Dress Code.  Students are welcome to wear uniform attire; staff will not communicate or enforce uniform expectations.  Our school identity is based on exploring shared values, building rigorous STEM skills, and constructing Project Based Learning experiences. STEM K-8’s diverse community will continue to find ways to create shared identity, belonging, and school spirit without the conformity of uniforms.

Background:

STEM K-8 staff spent the last two months of the school year examining the school uniform policy. Students, staff and families were surveyed (results are displayed below).  STEM K-8’s uniform policy was discussed by the Building Leadership Team, at staff meetings, and PTA meetings. A summary of key issues:

  • Staff, students, and families raised concerns about uniform policy implications for youth wrestling with equity, body image, identity, gender, race, culture, self-expression, and sometimes sensory needs. Examples include:
    • communication with challenging students focused on uniform compliance rather than connection;
    • time spent addressing uniforms detracting from instruction or building relationships;
    • uniforms represent “uniformity” and dominant cultural values regarding “professional” or “acceptable;”
    • students with different body types finding STEM uniforms uncomfortable physically and emotionally;
    • girls feeling uniform enforcement represents gender bias;
    • uniform enforcement disproportionately affecting struggling students;
    • a wide variety of challenges lead to inconsistent enforcement;
    • the benefits associated with the STEM’s adoption of uniforms–supporting an academic learning environment, equity, shared identity, and safety—are less clear in middle school grades; and more.
  • The school board has been addressing broader dress code policy issues.  A school board action report on 6/24/19 connected to the proposed new SPS Dress Code stated, “School dress codes have a long history in our society and are often over-reaching and biased against the female gender. With this policy, it was the hope to eliminate unnecessary notions regarding such things as clothing length and subjective views of appropriate school attire.”
  • STEM K-8’s uniform surveys asked multiple questions about our uniform policy.  In the end the basic question was whether STEM K-8 should change our uniform policy.

Questionnaire results:

Question: STEM K-8  should continue to require uniforms.

Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly

Disagree

Grade 3-8 Students 13/202 or 6% 2/202 or 1% 18/202 or 9% 23/202 or 11% 146/202 or 72%
Families 112/293 or 38% 70/293 or 24% 28/293 or 10% 41/293 or 14% 42/293 or 14%
Staff 6/47 or 13% 9/47 or 19% 6/47 or 13% 16/47 or 34% 10/47 or  21%

As displayed in the table, clear divisions regarding uniforms emerged among survey respondents.  83% of 3rd-8th grade students oppose a uniform policy, with 72% strongly disagreeing with uniform requirements.  On the other hand, 62% of families support uniforms with 38% strongly agreeing. Amongst staff, 55% were opposed to a uniform policy, with 21% strongly disagreeing. Only 32% of staff supported a uniform policy.

For a uniform policy to be effective, a strong majority of staff and families need to support it.  At STEM K-8, most staff and students are opposed to uniforms, while a majority of families support them.  One reason for the discrepancy are negative outcomes staff and students experience from uniform enforcement, and the equity issues raised.  When those concerns were discussed during PTA meetings, families present understood more clearly the complexity of uniform issues.

Under the new SPS Dress Code scheduled for an adoption vote July 10, implementation guidelines exempt uniform policies adopted with feedback from students and families and a 2/3 staff vote.  During the final months of school, staff participated in multiple uniform discussions, input was solicited from families and students, and two PTA meetings discussed uniforms.  In the formal STEM K-8’s staff vote, 36% supported continuing uniforms, 48% were opposed, and 17% were neutral.  While a 2/3 majority is the baseline for staff approval, only slightly more than 1/3 of staff voted for uniforms.

Respectfully,

Ben Ostrom

STEM K-8 Principal

Permanent link to this article: http://stemk8pta.org/2019/07/03/uniform-policy-update-for-2019-school-year/