DerryNews.com, Derry, New Hampshire

October 17, 2013

Editorial: Uniformity is not always best


Derry News

---- — Students at Pinkerton Academy could have a uniform look next fall.

School officials are contemplating a “unified dress code” for the future. While school leaders are careful to avoid calling it a uniform, that’s exactly what it is.

Khaki pants, skorts, skirts, shorts and polo shirts with an embroidered Pinkerton logo are the basics of the proposed wardrobe.

There’s nothing particularly offensive nor attractive about the samples students modeled at a parents’ night last month.

Some parents have complained the clothing doesn’t flatter every body type and could subject a student to ridicule.

Far more objected to the proposal that parents purchase the uniforms from Lands’ End, a pricey proposition. In addition to the burden of a substantial uniform cost, many parents said, would be the cost of a wardrobe for outside school. Students are unlikely to wear their Pinkerton attire any longer than required.

But the bigger issue in the closet is whether a New Hampshire high school needs uniforms.

Pinkerton already has a very explicit dress code, outlined in great detail on Page 4 of the 80-page student planner the school distributes.

Academy students can’t wear cutoffs, bare their midriffs, come to school in pajamas, sport spaghetti straps, choose shirts that promote illegal activity, violence or sexual activity, or have trouble walking because their pants are too low-slung.

Those are all reasonable guidelines and very clearly spelled out.

Also spelled out are the punishments for violating the code, including requiring parents to bring an appropriate outfit to campus, keeping an ill-dressed student out of class or even sending them home.

Again the punishment appears to fit the crime. Break the rules and pay the price.

But Headmaster Mary Anderson says it’s not working. Kids are dressing for “the beach,” there’s too much skin visible in the classroom and the staff is spending too much time on enforcement.

Well, perhaps it’s time to give enforcement the old Academy try.

Pinkerton is a big school, one of the five largest in the state. That’s a lot of students to police. But Pinkerton boasts often of its student-teacher ratio, about 13-to-1. So, there are lots of staff members to monitor attire. Add in aides and other school employees and the burden doesn’t appear that great.

School officials say inappropriate clothing is a distraction. Perhaps, but so are lots of other things — gum chewing, whispering, cell phones, toe-tapping, to name a few.

It boils down to enforcement.

Anderson would like students to be readily identifiable as members of Astro nation.

“On the weekends, they can express themselves however they want,” she said.

Put on the brakes.

High school students are among the most expressive population, as well they should be. They’re figuring out who they are, experimenting in lots of ways, finding their voices.

Pinkerton has a fine, and well deserved, reputation for its arts programs. Tough to imagine if students had to restrict self-expression to the weekend.

A goal of every high school should be to promote good decision-making and assuming responsibility for the choices one makes.

Pinkerton has a dress code and it should be enforced. Maybe a few calls to parents who have to leave work to deliver suitable attire or a few days at home for making bad wardrobe choices would help. Some parochial schools keep a ready supply of appropriate, if unattractive, clothing choices on hand. Violate the dress code and wear something you would rather stay in the closet.

It’s understandable the school staff would rather not be the fashion police. But schools have all kinds of rules and attire is one of them.

Pinkerton officials ought to focus on cracking down on violations for a while and try to change the fashion culture at the school.

Requiring uniforms is not the answer.

Clothing choices reflect the individual. Pinkerton ought to celebrate that individualism, within the strict guidelines already in place.

Reducing students’ fashion choices to the color of socks they put on in the morning runs contrary to any celebration of diversity and self expression.