CLEVELAND- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District today regarding a recent announcement that the school district would no longer provide vouchers for low-income families who cannot afford uniforms. State law requires school districts that implement uniforms or strict dress codes must have a policy in place to assist families who qualify for financial aid. Under current district policy, students who do not comply with the uniform policy may be suspended or given detention.
“Education is the bedrock of our community and we cannot allow young people to be denied access to schools because they are unable to buy certain clothes. Uniforms are optional for school districts, but providing our children with quality education must not be,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “While I sympathize with the financial challenges Cleveland schools face, they are not released from their responsibility to comply with the law.”
In 1996, the Ohio General Assembly passed a law outlining requirements for school districts who voluntarily implemented uniforms or strict dress codes. The guidelines state that uniforms may not be required without a policy in place to aid economically disadvantaged families. The law allows the school district to use its own funds or outside funding to provide vouchers for low-income students.
“Many families in Cleveland are struggling to make ends meet and simply cannot afford an additional expense,” added Link. “Those students who come from economically disadvantaged households already face tremendous obstacles, and now will likely be punished more frequently because they cannot afford uniforms. In effect, officials have created a modern-day ‘pauper’s prison’ in our schools.”
During the 2009-2010 school year, over 10,500 vouchers were claimed by families who needed financial assistance to purchase uniforms. Several non-profit agencies also assisted with financial and in-kind donations for low-income families. School officials have not provided an estimate for how many families may need assistance during the 2010-2011 school year.
“With economic woes continuing to plague Cleveland families, the need for aid may be even greater than in years past,” concluded Link. “Schools have an obligation to provide our young people with an education, regardless of their income level. We cannot allow the ability to afford certain clothes impede a child’s learning. Officials must comply with state law and either provide vouchers or stop requiring students to wear uniforms.”