Some schools let students skip the uniform — for a fee

Some public schools that require students to wear uniforms offer “dress-down” days, letting them wear other clothes. But this can come at a price, with principals requiring students pay $1 or $2 for the privilege.

A group of Cobb County parents is upset at the practice, arguing it ostracizes children not able to pay and conflicts with the often-cited argument that uniforms level the socioeconomic playing field, with everyone dressed the same and no one wearing costly name-brand attire.

In Cobb, nearly 70 percent of the 29 schools that require uniforms charge students a fee to participate in designated “dress-down” days, which vary among the schools. School officials say the money is used to support school clubs and charitable causes and purchase school supplies. But those fees are another point of contention about uniforms, leading some school board members to say it’s time to reconsider the uniform policy.

“I account for every penny. I don’t have a lot of extra for dress-down days,” said Dionne Lewis, a single mother whose daughter attends Riverside Intermediate School in Cobb, where students have been charged for dress-down days. “If you’re being respectable in class and … not being disruptive, it shouldn’t matter what you have on your back.

“Don’t tell me that in order for them to wear their own clothes, we have to pay for it,” she added.

Questions about school uniforms were recently highlighted by The Atlanta-Journal Constitution’s finding that Hispanic and black students in Georgia and throughout the U.S. are required to wear them more often than white students and more likely to face disciplinary action, which can include missing classroom lessons, for dress violations.

Across metro Atlanta, about half of black students and one of every four Hispanic students wear uniforms, while about one of every 20 white students do. The racial disparity is among the starkest in Cobb, where about half of students are black or Hispanic, and every school that requires uniforms is majority black and Hispanic. The district also has one of the harsher discipline records, with about one in five dress code violations, which can include uniform infractions, punished with in-school suspensions.

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