School Uniforms Have Benefits, Downsides in New Orleans

Almost all New Orleans parents with school-aged children have grown familiar with the process of purchasing uniforms required by a large proportion of both private and public schools in Louisiana’s largest city. According to Danielle Dreilinger of The New Orleans Times-Picayune, this makes the city quite distinct from other places around the country. Nationwide, fewer than 20% of students wear uniforms to school.

Not that NOLA parents worry very much about what the rest of the country thinks. Here, almost everyone believes in the benefits of school uniforms, with a lack of distractions, peer-judgment and competition among them. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t see some major downsides to the practice when it comes to shopping for uniform pieces themselves, especially when it comes to issues of price.

With private schools that require uniforms, parents are accustomed to paying tuition and know what they’re getting into. It can be expensive. The smallest sizes of the mandatory blazer for St. Katharine Drexel Preparatory High in Uptown cost $87 at Schumacher’s in Metairie. Some schools also mandate school-monogrammed socks or specific shoes such as saddle Oxfords.

Is that pricey? “Oh, it is! Very much. Very, very much,” said Debra LeBeau, who sends her daughter to St. Katharine, the new name of Xavier Prep. “I’m not OK with it. But what are you going to do?” At least the material is good and the clothes last, she said.

Many low-income families in the city take advantage of the state’s voucher program to send their kids to private schools. But while public money covers most or all of the tuition, they have to cover the cost of the uniforms – an expense some struggle to afford.

At least the problem is not as acute in traditional parish schools. Mindful of the income level of students’ families, public schools have much looser requirements. Parents can choose from a number of looks, with many choosing simple school-colored polos and khaki pants without flourishes like monograms or special shoes, keeping the costs down.

But some schools show a little more flair: In the late 1990s, Oretha C. Haley Elementary (now closed) was among the schools where the uniform incorporated kente cloth. Warren Easton High students went for a custom purple-and-yellow plaid in 1989.

Today, some schools stand out even more. Miller-McCoy Academy goes full-on prep school with blazers, vests and ties. Lycée Français puts prekindergarten girls in blue gingham smocks with red piping.

All this style comes at a cost, however, especially beyond children’s sizes. According to the Schiro’s website, the adorable Lycée Français smock costs $45. In the New Orleans Parents’ Guide, McDonogh 35, Carver and Warren Easton high schools and Alice Harte elementary school estimate the cost for a single uniform at more than $70.