Vineland students should have an easy choice in what to wear when they attend classes starting in September.

The Cumberland County district will likely have a mandatory school uniform policy, something officials have discussed for years.

The policy is more widespread than the original plan — which would have allowed each school to decide whether it wanted its students to be in uniform, along with the type of uniform and colors — after principals expressed to school board members their preference for a districtwide policy, Vineland Board of Education Solicitor Robert DeSanto said.

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“If you leave one school and go to (another school), you don’t have to worry about it because the same colors apply to each school,” he said.

Superintendent of Schools Mary Gruccio said the policy will create a “sense of unity” for the more than 11,000 students who attend the district’s 18 schools, adding that having districtwide uniforms will make it less expensive for parents and “takes all that tension away from kids who … worry about what their friends are wearing.”

The policy — which would mandate khaki bottoms and red, black and white tops — is scheduled to undergo a public hearing and final vote when the Board of Education meets Feb. 13.

There is no clear information as to how many schools or school districts in New Jersey have uniform policies.

“We have never seen anything reliable,” New Jersey School Boards Association spokesman Michael Yaple said of information relating to uniform policies.

One problem is that school districts in New Jersey are not required to report whether they have uniform policies. Another issue is that some uniform policies apply to entire districts while others apply only to certain schools within districts, he said.

Recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that about 19 percent of all public schools in the country have some kind of uniform policy, he said. Those statistics show an increase from the 12 percent estimated in 2000, he said.

However, Yaple said the statistics are based on surveys of superintendents and principals. There is some question as to the accuracy of the federal department’s findings, he said.

As for New Jersey, Yaple said, “Our sense is that it is not that high.”

Vineland will not be the only district in South Jersey with a uniform policy.

School officials in Pleasantville, Atlantic County, adopted a districtwide uniform policy in June 2001.

Pleasantville school leaders said at the time that they thought uniforms would help create a “positive learning environment” and reduce stress on students whose families could not afford designer clothing. They also said uniforms might be a way to reduce bullying and improve discipline.

Officials in another Cumberland County school district, Bridgeton, launched a uniform policy in September 2006.

Bridgeton Board of Education members said then that the uniform was designed to serve as a sort of cultural intervention for the district’s children. Many of the city’s children enter the work force with a limited understanding of how to dress for success, they said.

Officials with the Bridgeton and Pleasantville districts did not return requests from The Press of Atlantic City for comment about how their uniform policies have fared.

Yaple said determining the success of school uniforms is difficult.

“You can find people for and against, and you can find research for and against,” he said. “For the supporters, they did say that it tends to bring a sense of professionalism to the school.”

Yaple also said supporters contend uniforms can improve school security.

“It helps identify who belongs to the school system,” he said.

DeSanto said security was a factor in Vineland’s consideration of school uniforms.

The Vineland district will provide financial help to “economically disadvantaged students” whose families cannot afford to buy uniforms, DeSanto said. The requirements will essentially mirror those for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, he said.

Family members can apply for financial help and will be “offered assistance if they want it,” he said.

Gruccio said Vineland’s students may not be the only ones wearing uniforms: Some principals and teachers have indicated they might also abide by the policy.

“They want to set an example,” she said.

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