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Uniforms won't stop school bullies, experts say 0

By Shawn Jeffords, The Standard

The Niagara Catholic District School Board is considering requiring elementary students to wear uniforms, and to ban items like tattoos and piercings for senior students.

The Niagara Catholic District School Board is considering requiring elementary students to wear uniforms, and to ban items like tattoos and piercings for senior students.

ST. CATHARINES - 

School uniforms do nothing to prevent bullying.

So says Tony Volk, an associate professor Brock University researcher who has done extensive research on bullying. He said a controversial Niagara Catholic District School Board proposal to introduce uniforms in its elementary schools will not have an impact on bullying, as the board has suggested.

“Overall, there is no evidence in bullying literature that supports a reduction in violence due to school uniforms,” he said.

“Bullies are smart. They will just find some other way to show status. Who has the best iPod, who has the most games at home, who went on the biggest vacation. If kids want to pick on someone about how rich or how poor they are, clothes are one obvious symbol but there are a lot of other obvious ways for them to do it.”

The board will start rolling out the proposed policy at a series of meetings for parents between March 20 and May 2. The policy would also clamp down on students’ tattoos, piercings and hair dye in its high schools.

The board said it’s looking at the policy for a variety of reasons, including its impact on reducing bullying, enhancing school safety by spotlighting outsiders who visit the school and by encouraging a focus on academics and school spirit.

Volk said research also shows school uniforms do little to increase academic performance in schools.

“Some people have the mistaken belief that it’s associated with more discipline, when it really isn’t. Putting on a set of clothes doesn’t change a child.”

York University psychology professor and bullying researcher Debra Peplar agrees there is little evidence to suggest uniforms curb bullying.

She is a member of PREVNet, a national network of Canadian researchers, non-governmental organizations and governments committed to stop bullying.

“I know of no research to support this,” she said in an e-mail.

“We conducted research in independent and publicly funded schools and there were few differences in rates of bullying and victimization. We didn’t publish the data separately for type of school because there were no differences.”

Bullying is a very complex problem and there is not a single solution that will solve it.. besides.. we understand bullying as a relationship problem that requires relationship solutions.. this is not a solution that will change the quality of relationships in the schools.

Volk, who has a child in the Niagara Catholic school system, said the board would be better off focusing its efforts elsewhere if its goal is to prevent bullying.

“If the school board was serious about reducing bullying, it should do a study and use methods that work rather than school uniforms,” he said.

But Welland resident Lisa Alward said regardless of what the research says, she was bullied as a child for what she wore. Now with two daughters in the school system, she’s happy to see uniforms might be introduced.

“I got made fun of because my clothes were homemade,” she said. “I see that some kids have more money than others and better clothing. Girls get put in groups because of what brand names they can afford.

“I think that every kid should be equal, especially in the Catholic system because of our faith.”

Alward said she thinks the board could help parents who would struggle with the costs of the new uniforms by holding uniform trade-in days and making second-hand store locations available.

“It’s so much easier getting up in the morning and not having to fight with your six- or seven-year-old about what they’re going to wear. They can dress themselves at an earlier age. This is what you wear and that is it.”

Niagara Catholic District School Board superintendent of human resources and safe schools Frank Iannantuono said Tuesday arrangements could be made to help parents with more than two children receive discounts on the uniforms.

Notre Dame Catholic High School student Michael Dube said he thinks students at the elementary level and their parents won’t mind the uniforms if the policy is approved. The Grade 12 student has spent the past four years in a uniform at school and said he likes it.

“You never have to think in the morning,” he said. “You can wake up 20 minutes before you go to school.”

He also thinks despite the research, kids are bullied over what they wear at school. It won’t be an issue for younger children, but as they reach Grades 6, 7 and 8 it will play a role, he said.

“Some people are sensitive to the brand issues, so this could be a good thing for them.”

However, Dube said he’s not happy with entrenching school rules about tattoos, piercings and hair dye into board policy. The board has said the items are distracting and take away from the learning environment in the classroom.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s not going to change the learning environment.”

Dube said a friend of his who has an eyebrow ring is sent home regularly.

“If anything, what’s taking something away from the learning environment is that she gets sent home every day to take it out.”

Volk said clamping down on students’ freedom to express themselves sets a poor precedent and might inspire rebellious attitudes in students who might have otherwise been content with the system.

“I think all kids respond best to rules and punishments that have a good reason behind them,” he said.

“When there isn’t a good reason behind and you’re basically saying conform because we want you to conform, then that is not a good message.”

sjeffords@stcatharinesstandard.ca

 

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