Mandating school uniforms in grades k 12
“The unstated message was: ‘You are a mass, you are the same, you will take your rightful place among the working mass in the industrial machine.’” It would take another 150 years or so before widespread use of uniforms in American public schools would be on the table, but the backstory there is not to be overlooked either.
Brunsma goes on to lay out a concise timeline of the American school uniform policy in public education, from idea to implementation.
Hugette’s boys attended Catholic school, and wore Catholic school uniforms, before transferring to CPS two years ago. She too went to Catholic school and wore uniforms as a kid, but no one she knew in public school back then had to wear a uniform.
More students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (the gauge for poverty among school-aged kids) in uniform schools than those in non-uniform schools, which means that uniformed public schoolers tend to be poorer than their non-uniformed counterparts.
So when the school board sued the state of Illinois in February, it didn’t just accuse the governor of negligence — it alleged what CPS CEO Forrest Claypool called “overt racial discrimination.” “The governor says he’s trying to fix a broken system and he may very well be,” said Claypool at the March school board meeting, after citing the grim plausibility of eliminated schooldays, class materials, and after-school programs, all threats of the state’s legislation (or lack thereof).
“But there’s another broken system that he refuses to fix, and that he has made much worse: a separate and unequal system of funding education that treats CPS children, 90 percent [people] of color, as second-class citizens, relegated, in the elegant words of the lawsuit filed against him, to the back of the school-funding bus.” In Chicago, one in three children lives in poverty; 81 percent of public school students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Kenneth doesn’t think much about his school uniform.
He is 11 years old, attends fifth grade at a public school on Chicago’s South Side, and wears thick brown glasses that are, his mom says, unbreakable.