School Uniforms Under Fire: Much Ado About Two Words

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RENO, NV - If you looked in on a classroom at Roy Gomm Elementary in west Reno Monday, you'd see children learning, fairly well engaged with their teacher, intent on the day's lessons.

You might not even notice at first that each is wearing either a blue or red shirt or hoodie and only on close examination would you see each bore a school logo.

The words above the school mascot--a gopher--might be the last detail to catch your attention.

But in a federal courtroom a couple of hundreds of miles and another state away, those two words--"Tomorrow's Leaders"-- were the focus of a high-powered, high-priced legal battle before a panel of federal judges.

The suit was brought by parents who've been battling the school over its uniform policy ever since it was adopted.

Other issues were initially raised. How the decision was made. Whether the parents' vote approving it was legitimate, even whether a separate school motto, "One Team, One Community" was appropriate, but the legal fight has now boiled down to a First Amendment issue and those two words.

Our calls to the complaining parents, Mary and John Frudden, were not returned, but arguments they made in the lower court indicate they felt "Tomorrow's Leaders" was elitist, dismissive of students at other schools whose parents might choose other mottos or no mottos at all.

It's an argument other parents dismiss.

"I don't know why the logo was chosen, but I believe it's a positive logo," says Sara Trimmer, a parent who also volunteers at the school.

She adds if you ask the students, they might not even be aware of the inspirational motto.

Some, at least, aren't. When asked what the logo said, her first grader, Aaron, knew it included the mascot and school name, but didn't know what the words over them said. Still he gave the uniforms a thumbs up.

"I like it a lot because it has a gopher on it and I like gophers."

Another student said he liked them because they were "comfortable and not itchy."

More than a quarter of Washoe County schools have adopted uniforms. It's not clear what impact the legal case could have on their policies, but those with some experience with them are generally positive about their effect.

It seems to eliminate a distraction, especially at the middle and high school level, and it helps school staff identify who should be on campus and who shouldn't

"They have expressed that it makes the schools safer," says Area Superintendent Troy Parks. "Many of the teachers have said the kids arrive ready to learn."

Regardless of how the case is settled, it appears the school district and Mary Frudden won't have heard the last of each other.

The district has named a committee to help develop a district-wide policy for those schools that choose to have uniforms, and Frudden, a local attorney, has been named to it.

School Board member Dave Aiazzi, who nominated Frudden, said naming someone who was suing the district to an advisory committee on the same issue presented no conflicts.

And he said he wanted to hear all points of view in the hopes of avoiding future conflicts.