U.S. school in S. Korea mulls uniforms
SEOUL — Seoul American Middle School’s principal will decide this week whether students will begin wearing uniforms.
Principal David Dinges will announce his decision via the school’s newsletter Friday, a day after the School Advisory Committee, a seven-member board of elected teachers and parents, makes its recommendation.
The idea of requiring uniforms surfaced during the committee’s regular meeting in November, when two parents — neither of whom are committee members — suggested it, said assistant superintendent Peter Grenier. One of the parents had a child whose last school required uniforms, and the other said uniforms would eliminate disruption and be cheaper for parents, he said.
The topic has since "gained momentum," Grenier said, and has been discussed at a December SAC meeting and a Jan. 7 town hall meeting attended by 65 parents. If approved, the new uniform policy would apply only to the middle school and would not affect other DODDS students in Korea or the Pacific.
Elementary and secondary students at U.S. military schools on Guam have been required to wear uniforms since January 2008 after input from parents, teachers and students. The change came, in part, because administrators said they spent too much of their time trying to enforce the dress code.
Grenier said arguments have been presented for both sides of the issue. While some contend uniforms limit freedom of expression and decrease individuality, others say they increase student achievement and self-esteem as students face less teasing about clothing and brand names.
"Basically, the thinking is it levels the playing field when children are wearing school uniforms," he said. "It reduces the amount of disruption in the classroom. It improves overall discipline because there’s not that competition over clothing."
DODDS-Pacific spokesman Charly Hoff said Dinges is not commenting about the upcoming decision.
"He wants to wait until all the evidence and the research and the input is provided so he can make a fair and balanced decision," he said. "He doesn’t want to even create the impression of bias."
Parents, teachers and students are deeply split on the issue, according to surveys conducted by the school.
Of the 44 staff members surveyed, 66 percent favored uniforms and 33 percent opposed them. Seventy-five percent of students surveyed opposed having uniforms, 17 percent favored them, and 8 percent had no opinion. Approximately 400 students attend the middle school.
An incomplete survey of parents showed that, as of Friday afternoon, 54 percent supported having uniforms while 46 percent opposed it.
Parent Heather Escamilla favors a uniform policy because, she believes, it would create unity and cohesiveness among students at an age when they are struggling with their identity.
Her daughter, a sixth-grader who had to wear a uniform at her last school, feels differently.
"She wasn’t too excited about having to do it again, but from a parental perspective I was very excited," said Escamilla, a former teacher who believes uniforms make it easier for instructors to teach.
She said opinion was split among parents who attended the Jan. 7 open house, but the issue was discussed in a "very calm, very adult manner."
Grenier said he doesn’t know how soon students would be required to wear uniforms if Dinges decides to require them, but it would likely take some time for the school to select uniforms.
"It’s not going to happen overnight," he said.
Grenier said he doesn’t know how much uniforms would cost, although they are expected to be cheaper than a normal school wardrobe. If approved, he said, the uniforms would be available through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.