TWIN FALLS | Until a few years ago, Bridge Academy principal Jim Brown spent a large portion of his time dealing with students wearing inappropriate clothing.
So, the Twin Falls alternative school made a big change in 2011 -- implementing school uniforms. Since then, disciplinary issues have been drastically reduced, Brown said, and student behavior has improved.
“When students are in uniforms, it’s kind of like church,” he said.
A few Magic Valley schools require uniforms, including Bridge Academy, North Valley Academy in Gooding, and Cassia High School in Burley.
Brown said that at Bridge Academy uniforms hide disparities between students, such as family income or social status. “This makes a level playing field.”
Seventh-grader Eathin Rucker, 12, said uniforms eliminate worries about what to wear. “... It takes bullying down to a smaller level.”
Classmate Kassidy Wilson, 12, agreed. “In regular schools, if you wear one thing wrong, they’re going to make fun of you.”
Bridge Academy students are required to wear jeans or black pants and a tucked in black polo shirt with the school logo, which costs $25.
For families who struggle to pay for uniforms, they can receive assistance from South Central Community Action Partnership.
School administrators may be thrilled about school uniforms, but what do students think?
Bridge students sometimes express a disdain for school uniforms when they’re writing argumentative essays, said Kathy Hensley, a language arts teacher.
Even so, she said students generally understand why the rule is in place.
“When they all have the same uniform, that’s one less distraction in the classroom.”
Bridge Academy is the only school in Twin Falls to require uniforms. But last year, changes to the school district’s dress code spurred debate.
Sixth- through 12th-graders may only wear shorts and skirts just above the knee, rather than at mid-thigh. And leggings cannot be transparent.
More than 250 students signed a petition in September 2013 to change the dress code, but it still remains in effect.
Nationwide, 19 percent of public schools required students to wear uniforms during the 2011-12 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
A 2010 study by the University of Houston concluded school uniforms have a positive impact on students’ academic performance and behavior.
North Valley Academy, a public charter school in Gooding, has required uniforms since opening in 2008.
“We felt the uniforms would be an integral part of our character education,” said Deby Infanger, school founder and board chairwoman.
Students must wear polo shirts in patriotic colors -- red, white or blue. They may choose khaki, navy or black pants.
Before uniforms were required at Bridge Academy, students would miss class if they had to change clothes, Brown said, and they’d be angry the rest of the day.
“Some students lacked the ability to make good choices about their dress.”
Now, students have a little freedom to express themselves. They’re allowed to wear a long-sleeved shirt underneath their polo shirt.
“It’s not completely stripping them of individuality,” Hensley said.
Cassia High School, an alternative school in Burley, has required school uniforms since 2010. Students wear a black school polo shirt and khaki pants.
Since uniforms were implemented, disciplinary issues have dropped by more than 75 percent, Principal Lauri Heward said. “It is amazing the difference that makes.”
In past years, school administrators encountered issues with students wearing jeans that were too tight, sagging or torn.
Both Bridge Academy and Cassia High used to see students wearing gang-affiliated clothing.
Only 25 percent of students who completed a 2010 school survey supported the idea of uniforms.
“Students overwhelming didn’t want it,” Heward said.
But the approval rate was much higher among adults -- 75 percent of parents and 100 percent of school employees.
Among Cassia High’s 130 students, some have warmed up to the idea, Heward said.
Over the summer, she even saw a couple of students wearing their school polo shirts on a Saturday. “It just made me smile.”