Kansas state senator pushes for uniforms in public schools

Tuesday, November 16, 1999

Public school students in Kansas will be wearing uniforms if a bill proposed for the 2000 session by Senate Majority Leader Tim Emert passes.

The bill would provide that “each school district shall adopt a dress code policy that requires all pupils enrolled in the district to wear uniforms.”

The measure was drafted, according to the bill's introductory language, “in order to provide an effective, orderly and disciplined school environment free from unnecessary disruptions engendered by the wearing of gang-related or other inappropriate clothing.”

The bill would provide an exemption for parents who “object on religious or philosophical grounds” to the wearing of uniforms and present a “signed statement of objection.”

The measure would also exempt students who wear “special clothing in observance of the religion or religious beliefs of such pupils.”

Emert, who practices law, says his background in education spurred him to propose the school-uniform measure. “I served on a local school board for 15 years and on the state board of education for five years,” he said. “The reason I filed this bill was actually the culmination of a lot of things. Some of it has to do with discipline, and part of it is simply getting kids to focus on what is important in schools.

“If you really want to know why I filed this bill, just go to your local middle or high school and walk down the hallways,” he said.

Emert, leader of the GOP-controlled Senate, objects to the notion that a bill mandating uniforms might infringe on students' First Amendment free-expression rights. “Kids have many ways to express themselves other than with their clothing,” he said. “Clothes do not make the person. It is ridiculous for people to say that uniforms violate students' rights. I say, let students express themselves with their brains, not their bodies.”

However, Dick Kurtenbach, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, says the bill presents First Amendment problems. “It requires only the slightest bit of common sense to know that for young people in public schools how they look is one of the few ways that they have to express themselves,” he said.

“I am simply flabbergasted by this bill,” Kurtenbach said. “We will be weighing in heavily against this bill.”