VINELAND - Picking something to wear on the first day of school on Thursday was not difficult for local youths.
The first day of the 2013-14 academic year was also the first day for students to adhere to a new dress code at city schools.
District officials say they hope the dress code - which mandates, among other things, khaki or black pants, skirts and shorts, and red, white or black tops - will help improve student behavior, reduce bullying linked to student clothing, and create a better team spirit at all schools.
No information was available from local educators on Thursday regarding how many of the 9,600 district students adhered to the dress code. District officials said they will likely release that information today after reviewing reports from all city schools.
However, it was clear on Thursday that the majority of students got the dress code message. Most students waiting along city streets for school buses and those walking to school wore clothing that met the dress code requirements.
At Vineland High School South, the overwhelming majority of juniors and seniors who poured off buses at about 7:20 a.m. met the dress code requirements. School Principal Thomas McCann estimated that about 85 percent of the students complied with the code.
The reaction from those students regarding the dress code was generally supportive.
"I thought it was going to be a lot worse," Mike Ostrowski, a 16-year-old senior, said. "When I got up this morning and saw what I had to wear, I liked the look."
"They have a wide variety of things to wear," said Chris Wolfe, 16, another senior. "I just wish it didn't start for my senior year."
Not all the students agreed that wearing uniforms would solve all school problems, like bullying.
"I think that stuff is still going to happen," said senior Mykelti Rankin, 16. "We're human. We'll just look better doing it."
And Aria Asselta, 17, a senior, said she felt the uniform policy was a failure in its attempt to make it more affordable to buy school clothing.
"I spent more this year on clothes than other years," she said.
McCann said students get a uniform grace period through today. The real enforcement will begin on Monday, he said.
Vineland High School South Assistant Principal Rich Panas, who handles discipline matters, said students reviewed the dress code while in homeroom on Thursday. They also signed a document indicating that they understood the code, he said.
Penalties for students who fail to adhere to the dress code begin with a warning for a first offense. The penalties gradually increase, depending on the number of infractions, and include phone calls to parents and in- and out-of-school detention.
This is not the first time McCann has overseen a dress code at a city school: He implemented uniform shirts when he was principal at the Landis Intermediate School for two years beginning with the 1995-96 school year.
"For me, they worked at Landis," McCann said. "It made the students feel more a part of the school."
The city joins Bridgeton as the two Cumberland County public school districts that have dress codes. Bridgeton started its uniform program in September 2006. Officials in Millville are considering some kind of dress code.
Vineland and Bridgeton account for 56 percent of the 27,103 students enrolled in Cumberland County public schools for the 2012-13 academic year, according to state Department of Education statistics.
Should Millville eventually mandate a dress code, then about 78 percent of the Cumberland County's public school students could one day wear school uniforms, according to statistics from the state Department of Education.
Other South Jersey public school districts that have a dress code include Atlantic City and Pleasantville in Atlantic County and Glassboro in Gloucester County.
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