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MPS Will Require Student Uniforms Next Fall

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All MPS students will soon have to wear uniforms. The Milwaukee School Board approved a new district-wide dress code at its monthly meeting Thursday night.

Until now, MPS has left it up to each individual school how to structure its dress code. About one-third of the district’s schools currently require uniforms. A lot of those uniforms look similar, even though there hasn’t been one standard across MPS.

Now, there will be one set of guidelines, and they will apply to every school.

Beginning in the fall of 2017, students must wear pants, skirt or jumper -- they’ll have to be tan, navy blue or black. And on top: a navy blue or black shirt, with a collar. Many individual MPS buildings have their own colors; students will be able to wear their school-based colors, as well.

The district has, of course, drawn up its policy to include the kind of rules one would expect about skirt length, prohibiting brand names and requiring students to tuck in their shirts.

Why change the policy now?

You might remember back in November, MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver put forth a big list of changes she wants to make: switching the school start date, making the district the only entity in Milwaukee that can charter schools. Mandating uniforms was also on her list.

Driver framed her reforms as a way to kickstart improvement in MPS. The district has long been among the lowest-performing in the state, with one of the widest achievement gaps in the country.

MPS leaders appear confident these new ideas will help them head in the right direction.

“There are many factors that lead to a positive school learning environment – safety, discipline, school unity. School uniforms is one way to achieve all three of these goals,” says Matthew Boswell, senior director of MPS’ Office of Student Services.

Sixth grader Ava Antonie disagrees. At the board meeting Thursday, the student from MPS’ A.E. Burdick Elementary was among several members of the public who argued against implementing uniforms.

She says they would limit her self-expression.

“I love wearing my David Bowie tee-shirts and my Lumineers hoodie,” Antonie said, sporting the outfit she described. “I know that not everyone is in a band, and not everyone is into art and music like me, but that’s the point. Everyone is different, they all have different styles. Everyone is unique, and should be allowed to show that.”

The way the new uniform policy now appears in MPS code, it applies to all students in traditional schools. So, non-traditional buildings -- like charter schools -- would be excluded from the requirement.

Schools and individual families will have the ability to opt-out from complying with the policy.

Some parents say the reason they wouldn’t support a uniform policy is cost. But the new rules require schools with uniforms to make them available to all students, even those who can’t afford them. 

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