CENTRAL FALLS – Students in the city could soon be wearing the school colors of red and blue on their sleeves — and on their slacks and skirts as well.
Central Falls Rep. Agostinho Silva has introduced legislation to allow Central Falls schools to adopt a dress code requiring school uniforms. Silva said parents approached him several months ago wanting to establish a school uniform policy.
“I told them, I’ll put it in,” Silva said, adding that the parents “are looking to put everybody at the same level, dress-wise, when they go to school.
Superintendent Frances Gallo says she is “ecstatic” about the uniform plan. “We think it is a great idea, the parents have been asking for it for quite a while. This is truly directly from the parents. There is even a groundswell of students who have been asking for it.”
The legislation calls for the school system’s governing board to establish a dress code by January of 2015 and to implement it six months later. Different schools and grade levels would be allowed to establish their own dress codes.
At this point, Gallo says, there has been no conversation about the specific of what the uniforms would look like.
There is flexibility in the plan, however. The legislation explicitly states that the uniform policy “shall include a provision that no pupil shall be penalized academically or otherwise discriminated against nor denied attendance to school if the pupil's parents chose not to have the pupil comply with the school dress code policy. The governing board of the city of Central Falls shall continue to have responsibility for the appropriate education of those pupils.
Silva’s bill says: “students and staff of the primary, elementary junior and senior high school campuses have the constitutional right to be safe and secure in their persons at school. However, children in many of our public schools are forced to focus on the threat of violence and the messages of violence contained in many aspects of our society, particularly reflected in gang 10 regalia that disrupts the learning environment.
“The adoption of a school-wide dress code policy in Central Falls is a reasonable way to provide some protection for students,” it adds. “A required dress code policy may protect students from being associated with any particular gang. Moreover, by requiring a school-wide dress code policy, teachers and administrators may not need to occupy as much of their time learning the subtleties of gang regalia.”
Gallo, however, adamantly denies there is any overt gang activity at the high school or middle school.
“Absolutely not,” she told The Times this week, “but there is always a concern, especially now as summer approaches and things pick up in the communities.”
The superintendent describes the desire for uniforms in part as “a cultural thing. Most of the families come from countries where uniforms are a standard item for school children, so it is a step in their culture. They believe, and we do as well, that it will breed a sense of respect for all.
“It is clearly an identifiable approach,” Gallo noted. “We want to be identified with our students. We want everyone to know who our students are because they really are extremely respectful and well-behaved and we want people to see that.”
Silva said there will be assistance for parents who can’t afford uniforms, but Gallo believes the uniforms will be “much more affordable than trying to keep up with the styles.”
Steven Brown, executive director of the RI ACLU says school uniform plans should be viewed with “enormous skepticism.”
He said imposing a mandatory dress code “weakens some of the basic principles underlying a public school’s mission in society. Education should encourage independence of thought and tolerance for others who may differ in their self-expression.” Requiring students to wear uniforms, Brown said, promotes “an unhealthy regimentation.
“Compulsory uniforms are used in prisons to destroy a sense of individuality and in the military to promote a sense of obedience to authority,” he said. “They are out of place in our public schools.”
School systems like Central Falls face significant challenges in improving student achievement, Brown acknowledged. “However,” he said, “school uniform policies are ineffective and a diversion from the more challenging steps that must be taken in an effort to better the city’s schools.”
Woonsocket schools implemented a uniform policy for students in 2010.