Physical education uniforms can help teachers get to know students better and unify the classmates. Or, they’re an unconstitutional mandate imposed by the nanny state. Public school districts that require physical education classes are divided on whether to require uniforms. Teachers love how uniforms foster discipline. But parents say they shouldn’t have to pay for something they and their children don’t want to own.
A 2013 study from the Institute of Medicine found that less than half of American youths meet federal guidelines calling for at least 60 minutes of vigorous exercise daily. Mandatory physical education can help boost that figure. And if children are going to exercise, they will need appropriate clothing. The Calvert County School District in Maryland notes that not only is a change of clothes necessary after gym class due to sweat and body odor, but staph infections can result due to not changing clothes after a tough workout.
Central Dauphin High School in Pennsylvania mandates physical education uniforms because names written on them help teachers and substitutes keep track of who’s who in class. A teacher from that school district said uniforms help her keep track of non-students on school property. Uniforms can help schools institute discipline and provide a sense of school pride and unity among students. And uniforms eliminate any questions about what sort of clothes are appropriate and the distractions to learning that come along with inappropriate clothes.
But uniforms cost money, and a public education is supposed to be free. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state of California in 2010 to block enforcement of its gym uniform policy due in part to the cost. A parent at Marysville High School in California contacted the ACLU because she didn’t want to be limited to the retailer of the school district’s choosing for the purchase of gym clothes. Some students simply want the freedom to dress as they please, a right guaranteed them by a longstanding U.S. Supreme Court decision that permitted students to wear black armbands in school to protest the Vietnam War.
Beyond the Uniform
The uniform debate could be settled as physical education -- and indeed regular education -- classes evolve. According to a 2012 report from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, only 38 states require physical education classes. And not every child goes to a brick-and-mortar school. About 1.5 million American children are home schooled. CBS News reported in 2009 that 500,000 to 1 million take classes online, and that number is growing. Gym uniforms don’t matter to these children. Nor do they matter to children at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., where teens get permission to work out before and after school but must wear a monitor to log hours spent exercising. In all three cases, the argument for gym uniforms becomes moot.
- Institute of Medicine Report: Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School
- Calvert County Public Schools: Press Release
- Pennlive.com: Gym Uniforms Will Soon be Mandatory for Central Dauphin Middle and High Schoolers
- Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance: What Are the Advantages and/or Disadvantages of Physical Education Uniforms and Should They Be Required?
- St. Francis School District: Physical Education Uniforms Policy (D-36)
- ACLU.org: ACLU Sues California Over Public School Fees for Students
- Appeal-Democrat.com: $ 20 fee for Marysville High P.E. Uniform Spurs Call to ACLU
- Firstamendmentschools.org: What Are the Free Expression Rights of Students in Public Schools Under the First Amendment?
- National Association for Sport and Physical Education Report: The 2012 Shape of the Nation Report: Status of Physical Education in the USA
- Institute of Education Sciences Fast Facts: Homeschooling
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images