A welcome change or reign of the fashion police? Students, parents and staff comment on the new district-wide uniform policy.
Booker T. Washington High School student Daniel Kupetsky initially protested the new uniform policy, but now admits he can live with it.
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Khakis. They’re the new black. This school season’s must-haves. And that’s not fashion jargon — students really must have khakis to attend class in Tulsa Public Schools.
The classic pants, shorts, and oxford and polo shirts on the approved wardrobe list may not be coming down any designer runways this fall, but they’ll fill the corridors of every school as part of Regulation 2601-R, the TPS uniform policy.
Stylist to the stars Rachel Zoe would hardly call the look “major,” but since 2006, all middle school students have been required to wear uniforms. In 2011, the district’s elementary and junior high students joined in, along with East Central and McLain high schools and the new Will Rogers College High School.
By Day 1 of the 2012-13 school year, uniforms were the order of the day for all students, in all grades, at all TPS schools. It’s like a never-ending game of “Who Stole My Look?” for the Joan Rangers of Joan Rivers’ “Fashion Police.”
Yet the biggest surprise of the new policy is how smoothly it happened and how little resistance it generated.
“It all started when a group of high school principals came to me with the idea, citing safety and security issues,” says TPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard. Initially, there was a strong reaction that included a large number of emails, lots of activity at school board meetings — even student protests at the meetings.
“I was impressed with the students,” Ballard says. “They were respectful and articulate in getting their point across.”
Since the implementation, both sides have calmed down.
“Now, there is no competition among students for designer this or designer that,” he says. “But we did have some pockets of pretty fierce opposition.”
Daniel Kupetsky of Booker T. Washington High School was one of the students protesting.
“The objection for me was that the uniform was uncomfortable and unnecessary,” Kupetsky says. “Other students argued for the right to express themselves.”
Now, he admits, “I can live with it. It’s not a huge deal, but it didn’t help anything. And there are still people who miss class for code violations.”
Daniel’s mom, Michelle Cantrell, objected to the policy, too, but for different reasons. With three boys in three different schools with three different uniform requirements, this new policy hit her in the wallet.
“Before, they would have worn jeans with one of the countless hundreds of running shirts we had,” she says. “I know it sounds easy to put on a uniform, but finding a belt in the morning or not having clean khakis can be more stressful — and more expensive.”
White oxford shirts are the one item all three boys can wear, but that gives their mom little comfort.
“Those get stained,” she says.
Many parents of girls feel differently. Donna Keffer’s little fashionista is about to be a first grader, but already — thanks to the uniform policy — mornings with Madeline have taken a turn for the better.
“There isn’t a battle over what she’ll wear,” her visibly relieved mom says.
Their discussions have shifted to how Madeline can personalize her uniform look. Striped or polka dot leggings in school colors often do the trick. Hair bows and barrettes help. And footwear, of course.
“She wants shoes to make her run faster so she can catch the boys,” Keffer says. “Her turquoise sequin tennis shoes are good for that.”
The skirts, jumpers, shirts, pants and shorts in Madeline’s closet can be mixed and matched to make about 10 outfits. She is not really partial to pants, but the shorts come in handy on the days she wants to twirl on the monkey bars.
At Eisenhower, Madeline’s school, uniforms must include the school logo, which can add as much as $5 to the price of a garment.
“There are a couple of places around town that (can add the logo), or I can catch a 1-cent sale at Land’s End,” Keffer says.
The school also hosts a consignment sale every year, a convenient outlet for parents to donate and buy used uniforms.
The uniform policy has certainly changed the pace of business for Chari Edwards of C&J School Uniform Co. Her store originally catered to private and parochial school students, but now serves TPS families, too.
“This is our 18th summer, and the business has grown substantially,” she says.
Local discount and department stores carry the individual pieces that make up the TPS uniform collection, but a uniform store can offer additional perks.
“We have sizes parents can’t find in stores, like slims and huskies, from 2T to 54 men’s,” Edwards says. “Our boys’ pants have reinforced knees. Some girls buy the boys’ pants for that reason.”