N.Y. assemblyman introduces school-uniform bill

Monday, March 7, 2011

Introduced Jan. 26 by Democratic Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera, A.0. 3606 would require school districts to “establish and implement a school district uniform policy for all students in grade one through 12.”

The wording of the measure contends that uniforms would contribute to a safer school environment by reducing the spread and influence of gangs. It also argues that uniforms will make students focus more on studying than on outside factors. “This act will not only impact the social and economic status of families throughout the state by providing inexpensive uniforms, but it will enhance students’ concentration on studying rather than on forming or joining gangs,” the measure states in its legislative history.

“Also it is the finding of this legislature that requiring school students in this state to wear uniforms will diminish exclusion of students based on what they are wearing, place stronger focus on academic performance, decrease opportunity for showing gang affiliation or hiding weapons, create an atmosphere of teamwork and pride in personal appearance and school, promote safety, put students in a more common ground, and reduce discrepancies in administering dress-code justice.”

Nowhere in this laundry list of justifications are the First Amendment and the freedom of speech for public school students. Critics of mandatory uniform policies contend that such requirements restrict the individuality and autonomy of students to express themselves. Many young people like to express support for their favorite sports team, music band, slogans, pictures and other messages.

And it looks as if the uniforms idea won’t go far. Rivera told the First Amendment Center Online: “The legislation was created to fight growing gangs in our public schools who identify themselves by different colors. The Assembly Education Committee is opposed to the bill so it does not have a good chance of passing.”