Matt Buesing knows uniforms inside and out: He was a member of the Middle Township, N.J., school board when the district was one of the first in the state to go to a uniform policy. He has since served as a consultant for hundreds of school districts throughout the country as they create and implement their own policies. Buesing is the school marketing coordinator for French Toast, a New York-based uniform manufacturing company that supplies only to retailers.
Buesing has been following news related to districts moving toward new dress code and uniform policies, including in Cape Girardeau. French Toast tracks the use of uniforms in public schools by keeping an internal database with information it obtains through phone surveys conducted with school districts nationwide and compiling research on the effects of uniforms in schools.
According to the company's research, the use of uniforms in public schools is growing between 7 to 10 percent each year. The Southeast Missourian conducted an interview with Buesing covering specifics of the Cape Girardeau School District's proposed dress code policy, including cost, creation and implementation, legality and possibilities of the policy to positively affect the school environment and improve academics.
The cost of a year's worth of uniforms for one student, which can be considered at a minimum five tops and three bottoms, can be purchased for less than $150, according to Buesing.
"If a family is going to keep buying the same amount of fashion items as they have been buying, as well as school uniforms, then yes, it's an added cost," he said. "But if you are modifying a child's wardrobe to include the school clothes and less fashion items, and since they won't have the opportunity to wear some of these items they are wearing now, it will actually cost less."
Buesing said the dress code issue in Cape Girardeau is similar to one in many other school districts he has worked in and followed.
"The process has been pretty thorough from what I've been able to see. It seems that they have done due diligence on the issue," he said. Districts commonly don't seek student input when creating a policy, he said. One thing he saw from Cape Girardeau he said he hasn't noticed many other places were students modeling uniforms that would be required by the policy at the first public forum.
Buesing advises school districts to take time to develop their policies, and suggests it happen over the course of an academic year.
"The school districts that encounter failure or don't see these policies last too long are the ones who try to jam it down people's throats," he said.
A time when a school district's physical environment is improving is good timing for implementing a policy, Buesing said, pointing to the Cape Girardeau School District's $40 million worth of voter-approved construction projects currently in progress.
Over the years there have been many cases heard over individual rights and regulation by schools of what students are allowed to wear. Nearly every time, the courts have said that a school's desire to create a safe environment outweighs students' desires to wear what they want to, and that uniforms can be required, Buesing said.
"There is no research that definitively says uniforms improve performance," Buesing said. However, he said, the use of uniforms can change the climate of a school environment and set the table for positive changes.
He saw academics, behavior and attendance improve in the New Jersey school district where he served as a board member, and said if someone were to read any follow-up coverage in a newspaper of a district that began using uniforms within six months to a year after implementation, they would see similar results reported.
"Things got better there [Middle Township], and it wasn't necessarily because they were wearing collared shirts and khakis every day," he said. But that experience showed him that a combination of an improving physical atmosphere, a new curriculum and uniforms in fact could create a calmer environment and a greater focus on learning.