Should Students Have to Wear Physical Education Uniforms in School?

Before students can head for the field or the court, they must wear appropriate attire.
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Physical education uniforms can help teachers get to know students better and unify the classmates. Or, they’re an unconstitutional mandate imposed by the nanny state. Public school districts that require physical education classes are divided on whether to require uniforms. Teachers love how uniforms foster discipline. But parents say they shouldn’t have to pay for something they and their children don’t want to own.

1 Appropriate Attire

A 2013 study from the Institute of Medicine found that less than half of American youths meet federal guidelines calling for at least 60 minutes of vigorous exercise daily. Mandatory physical education can help boost that figure. And if children are going to exercise, they will need appropriate clothing. The Calvert County School District in Maryland notes that not only is a change of clothes necessary after gym class due to sweat and body odor, but staph infections can result due to not changing clothes after a tough workout.

2 Pros

Central Dauphin High School in Pennsylvania mandates physical education uniforms because names written on them help teachers and substitutes keep track of who’s who in class. A teacher from that school district said uniforms help her keep track of non-students on school property. Uniforms can help schools institute discipline and provide a sense of school pride and unity among students. And uniforms eliminate any questions about what sort of clothes are appropriate and the distractions to learning that come along with inappropriate clothes.

3 Cons

But uniforms cost money, and a public education is supposed to be free. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state of California in 2010 to block enforcement of its gym uniform policy due in part to the cost. A parent at Marysville High School in California contacted the ACLU because she didn’t want to be limited to the retailer of the school district’s choosing for the purchase of gym clothes. Some students simply want the freedom to dress as they please, a right guaranteed them by a longstanding U.S. Supreme Court decision that permitted students to wear black armbands in school to protest the Vietnam War.

4 Beyond the Uniform

The uniform debate could be settled as physical education -- and indeed regular education -- classes evolve. According to a 2012 report from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, only 38 states require physical education classes. And not every child goes to a brick-and-mortar school. About 1.5 million American children are home schooled. CBS News reported in 2009 that 500,000 to 1 million take classes online, and that number is growing. Gym uniforms don’t matter to these children. Nor do they matter to children at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., where teens get permission to work out before and after school but must wear a monitor to log hours spent exercising. In all three cases, the argument for gym uniforms becomes moot.

Rudy Miller has been writing professionally since 1996. Miller is a digital team leader for, a local news website and content provider to the Express-Times newspaper in Easton, Pa. Miller holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Miami.