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Many schools have stopped requiring uniforms; could we be next?

By Gissel Mendoza, Emily Santiago and Jalan Veal

Uniforms are no longer required at Taft, Foreman, North Grand, Clemente, Lake View, and Roosevelt.

These neighborhood high schools – similar in size, academic performance, socioeconomic and geographic demographics to Steinmetz – have recently joined other schools that never required uniforms. The schools that don’t require uniforms are among the best in the city.

Throughout Chicago, these schools academically out-perform schools that do require uniforms, according to CPS’ levels of performance.*

The following schools do not require uniforms:

• “Level 1” Northside, Lane, Lincoln Park, Von Steuben, Jones, Payton, Westinghouse, Whitney Young, King, Lindblom, Chicago Agricultural, and Brooks;

• “Level 2” Prosser, Chicago Academy, Mather, Sullivan, Amundsen, Lake View, Alcott, Uplift, Disney II, Ogden International, Taft, Foreman, North Grand, Clemente, Roosevelt, Bogan, Curie, Kennedy, Kenwood, Juarez, Kelly, and Morgan Park.

• Nearly all the “Level 3” high schools and charter schools require uniforms. On the northwest side, uniforms are required at Schurz and Kelvyn Park, schools that are weaker academically than Steinmetz.

(*Source: CPS school locator 2014-2015,

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In her piece supporting Taft’s new, no-uniform policy, Taft editorial writer Kyra Buenaventura quotes Taft principal Mark Grishaber, who said: “Places with uniforms include Catholic schools, post offices, and McDonalds.” Star reporters Leslie Carmona (back to camera), Felisha Cordero, and Rayna Albelo interview Jones College Prep students Samantha O’Brien and Alex Behle about Jones’ non-uniform policy. Alex said he had previously worn a uniform (while a 7th and 8th grader at Taft), and that it was a relief go to school wearing what he wants to wear. Sam said she didn’t worry about clothes too much and that she has her “bum” days.

IIt is becoming rare for a “Level 2” school like Steinmetz to require its students to wear uniforms.

With Steinmetz’ move last year off probation, many wonder if the uniform policy should change, too.

Principal Stephen Ngo said he isn’t comparing schools.

“I don’t think about the other schools,” he said. “I’m just focusing on Steinmetz. Every school is different.”

The reason most large, diverse Chicago neighborhood high schools required uniforms (many beginning their policies, like Steinmetz, in the 1990s) was to create a safer, more academic environment. Administrators hoped gang representation and bullying would diminish if students were dressed the same, and that the uniformed look would create a more orderly, academic environment.

For these reasons, Steinmetz still has the uniform.

 “Without uniforms, gang violence might increase,” Mr. Ngo said. “There’s a group of students who won’t wear appropriate clothing if uniforms aren’t required.”

Mr. Ngo and disciplinarian Dr. Lorraine Frierson also addressed economic inequality, bullying, and anxiety as additional reasons to enforce a uniform.

“Uniforms take away a lot of peer pressure,” Mr. Ngo said. “It’s not fair for students who don’t have expensive items like other students. Uniforms take away the anxiety for students who don’t have as much as others.”

Dr. Frierson said she saw bullying about clothes before Steinmetz adopted the uniform policy.

“I wouldn’t have an issue if there weren’t bullying,” she said. “In the past, girls were bullied because of what they wore. For example, some girl would be bullied if she didn’t wear Gucci. One girl could buy name brands, when the other couldn’t afford it. Since there have been uniforms, there has been no bullying over clothes.”

But the many neighboring schools that have dropped uniforms are reporting no increased violence, bullying, or safety issues.

No problems related to the new non-uniform status

Teachers at Roosevelt, North-Grand, Chicago Academy and Foreman told the Star that there are no problems with students not wearing uniforms.

“We got rid of the uniform this school year,” Roosevelt teacher Tim Meegan said. “There are no problems related to non-uniforms.”

Foreman teacher Marty Lombardo said, “There is no added violence or rampant wearing of inappropriate wear.” In addition, he told the Star that the problem of “selective enforcement” of the uniform is now gone.

Without uniforms, teachers and other school staff no longer have to spend time on uniform policy enforcement which, Mr. Lombardo notes, is impossible to do equally.

North Grand, a newer school in the area, opened its doors requiring uniforms. After the original principal left, the current principal made the change.

 “The principal decided to end the uniform policy this year,” North Grand teacher Phil Cantor said. “When I started eight years ago is was super strict. We looked like a charter school. I think that was the point. Now we look more like a selective enrollment school, where kids wear what kids wear.”

At Chicago Academy, when the school was forming, teachers “fought to keep out uniforms,” said teacher Jim Cavallerro. “We’ve never had them and it’s fine.”

Happier students

High school students who now wear what they want to wear to school report no problems, and say they are feeling much happier.

Taft junior Anthony Heatherly said: “I think taking the uniform away was a good idea because we finally get to wear what we want and don’t get in trouble for wearing comfortable clothing. Not as many kids get in trouble. It also makes the students happy because we are comfortable and don’t have to wear ugly clothes.”

While some students worry about what to wear to school, the positives for them of not wearing a uniform outweigh the negative.

“Not wearing a uniform is harder because it’s more time consuming. You need to figure out what you’re gonna wear and not everyone has time in the morning,” North Grand senior Crystal Cuevas said. “But it feels good to be able to dress how you like.”

Foreman senior Darius Soward agrees that the students feel good.

“Having no uniforms has changed our school because we are more comfortable with wearing whatever we want to wear,” he said. “Students dress very appropriate. If students are dressed inappropriately there are consequences. We love the no uniform policy and it is much better.”

Reporters Lexi Bamber, Aaliyah Collins, Felisha Cordero, Angelica Lopez and Rosemary McGurn also contributed to this story. 

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