MANATEE -- Two years after the Manatee County School Board approved a policy that allowed schools to individually decide whether to require students to wear uniforms, the majority of elementary schools -- 20 of 34 -- have embraced the policy.
Three of the county's 10 middle schools now require students to wear uniforms.
But none of the county's six traditional high schools has opted for uniforms.
At the high school level, the focus is more on enforcing the dress code and ensuring that students dress appropriately, hopefully a habit they will adopt for the rest of their lives, several principals said.
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An exception is Manatee School for the Arts, which has required students to be in uniform for 13 of its 14 years of existence.
"What was fascinating was that the students said they really got tired of a handful of kids pushing the limit on the dress code and taking up so much time of the faculty and staff," Principal Bill Jones said.
A vast majority of students favor uniforms, Jones said.
The benefits: Uniforms act as a leveler, making it difficult to tell the rich kids from the poor, and reducing energy spent on what they wear, Jones noted.
The current school district policy allows a principal to make a recommendation that the school adopt a uniform policy. School advisory members then vote on the proposal. If 67 percent of school advisory council members concur, the proposal is put to parents for a vote. With a vote of at least 51 percent of parents, uniforms become standard dress for the school.
School board members adopted the optional uniform policy after learning that Osceola County reported a 40 percent drop in gang activity and student sexual harassment.
Horizon Academy, a school for at-risk children in kindergarten through high school, has a uniform policy.
Some elementary schools have embraced uniforms for other reasons.
"I would say it has a positive impact on the kids. They are not always worried about what they are wearing," said Michele Danowski, a third-grade teacher at Braden River Elementary School, which has adopted uniforms.
"As a parent, I love it. I don't have to fight with my daughter about what she is going to wear," Danowski said.
Parents at Willis Elementary School at Lakewood Ranch opted for uniforms eight years ago when the school opened and have elected to stay with that decision each time it comes up for a vote.
"I honestly believe the kids are better behaved and have a better attention span when they are in uniforms," said Ann Gowgiel, president of the Willis PTO.
"They have a tendency to focus more on studies," she said.
A uniform fair is held at Willis annually, allowing parents to get all the clothing they need in one stop, and a portion of the proceeds go back to the school as a fundraiser.
Bashaw, Braden River and Willis elementaries are having school uniform fairs Aug. 3-4, coinciding with the state's back-to-school sales tax holiday.
Sue Wainio-Oato, whose daughter is a student at Manatee School for the Arts, conducts the uniform fairs for the three schools.
"It makes it so easy, there is no fighting," Wainio-Oato said.
School uniform fairs are set:
n Bashaw Elementary School, 3515 Morgan Johnson Road, Bradenton; 3-7 p.m. Aug. 3 and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 4.
Information: Heather Williams, Bashaw Pride PTO president, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
n Braden River Elementary School, 6125 River Club Blvd., River Club; 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. Aug. 3 and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 4.
Information: Bethany Lynch, PTO president, at email@example.com.
n Willis Elementary School, 14705 The Masters Ave., Lakewood Ranch; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 3 and 9 a.m.-noon Aug. 4.
Information: Ann Gowgiel, PTO president, at firstname.lastname@example.org.