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Appearance Counts : Long Beach schools report crime drop in year that uniforms were required

August 22, 1995

The Long Beach Unified School District drew national attention last year when it became the country's first to make uniforms mandatory for its elementary and middle school students. The district is again making news with the release of campus crime statistics for the first year the clothing code was in effect. The plunge in criminal offenses is impressive. While it may be premature to take this initial evidence as a sign of permanent change on the campuses, the numbers are encouraging.

Fights among students in the school year that ended in June were less than half of what they were the previous year. Assault and battery declined by 34%, sex offenses by 74%, robbery by 66%. Crime in every category was down, overall by 36%.

The uniforms, which for some of the kids replace gang-related clothing, are getting much of the credit. Greater parental involvement, school decentralization and a determined effort to improve the learning environment are also cited as factors. But the uniforms are the focus of attention.

When children dress alike, clothing-related provocations and jealousies are reduced, while a sense of community is encouraged. The uniforms also make it far easier for school officials to spot outside troublemakers who come onto campus.

What works gets repeated. A year-old state law authorizes any school district to impose a mandatory uniform code. In Los Angeles County the Monrovia, West Covina, Lynwood and Rowland school districts have now opted to do so. More than one-third of the schools in the Los Angeles unified district will require uniforms beginning in September.

A society burdened by growing numbers of dysfunctional families, by crime, drugs and ethnic tensions is going to have troubles on its campuses. School uniforms may well help alleviate conflicts.

Consider uniforms still to be an experiment, but certainly one that looks very promising.

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