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The Uncomfortable Truth About KISJ’s Uniform Policy
Written by Minjae Lee | Published. 2020.03.31 20:11 | Count : 307

Jeju Island is known for its extreme climate, with hot and humid summers and cold and windy winters being the norm. In the summer, students at KIS Jeju International School (KISJ) are required to wear a uniform that is both uncomfortable and suffocating. During the winter months, students face another dilemma, follow their school’s strict uniform policy, which prohibits winter coats or break the rules and wear outdoor coats instead. To minimize the growing sense of hostility over this issue, it is important for KISJ to implement some changes and ultimately meet the needs of the students. Indeed, with some minor changes to the design, the school could create a light and breezy uniform that is suitable for the summer. Similarly, if the school relaxed its heating policy, the classrooms would be warmer in the winter, and students would no longer have to break the rules by wearing prohibited garments inside.

To stop students from falling asleep in warm classrooms, KISJ policy restricts the use of indoor heating during the wintertime. While the school has come up with the novel solution of providing its own goose down coats to students, these coats are not permitted indoors. Refusing to shiver compliantly in the cold, a number of students can be seen wearing restricted items indoors, an action that often results in disciplinary action or even suspension by the principal.

Based on a poll involving 120 KISJ students, it is clear that the majority of students (85.9%) wear a cardigan, baseball jacket, or blazer, all of which are official parts of the uniform. These students stated that they refrain from wearing padded jackets or coats at school simply because it is against regulations. That said, wearing the uniform failed to keep them warm. In fact, 64.7% of students revealed that they had felt cold in at least one class, and 76.7% viewed the school’s anti-padding stance as inappropriate. In this sense, more than half of these high school students disliked battling the cold at school and felt unsatisfied with the current policy. To question the purpose of the uniform policy and explore more, I paid a visit to Vice-Principal O’Bryon’s office.

[Self-conducted student poll of 120 KIS Jeju Students]
[Self-conducted student poll of 120 KIS Jeju Students]

[Vice Principal O’Bryon shared her insights about the uniform situation at KISJ. 
Photo credit: Christine Lee] 

In an effort to explain the origins of KISJ’s uniform policy, Vice-Principal O’Bryon stated, “The term ‘uniform’ has the Latin root-, ‘uni,’, -which stands for ‘one’ or ‘union’. The uniform is crucial for our school community because it removes the peer pressure to wear certain brands. If a student doesn’t wear a certain brand like everyone else, there is a risk that he or she might experience bullying.”

Undoubtedly, a school is a small community of individuals, and if students learn not to judge others by their clothes, they will be more likely to develop better social skills and form more meaningful relationships. 

Vice-Principal O’Bryon also mentioned some additional benefits. According to her, “A uniform policy could be seen as similar to the rules, and laws of the real world, which students will have to enter after graduation. Practicing the following such rules helps students develop appropriate habits.”

With a sense of enthusiasm, she added, “Students are not able to understand how a uniform keeps you safe, but it does, especially in school when where we can’t always monitor the presence of outsiders. Wearing this uniform makes us feel safe, which enables us to prepare for the worst-case scenario.” After all, the school is responsible for protecting students in the best possible environment for them.

[Christine Lee discussing the disadvantages of having a uniform policy with Annika Kim, 
a current 10th grader at KIS Jeju. Photo credit : Christine Lee] 

In contrast, the students on campus seemed to have different opinions about the general purpose of a school uniform. In the words of 10th grader Annika Kim, “Uniforms are totally uncomfortable. The girl’s blouse made me suffer during the summer because it’s too tight, so I bought a boy’s uniform. But then the long pants made me feel like I was in a steamer, which wasn’t much better”. 

Not only was the school responsible for creating a defective uniform, but it was also responsible for the many student complaints regarding this uniform. Even during a particularly freezing winter, teachers still refused to turn on the heaters in their classrooms. In a more pragmatic sense, however, Annika pointed out “Students won’t complain about the uniform policy if the school provided a cozy, warm environment.” As it stands, the only thing that students can do to shield themselves from the cold is to wear non-uniform outdoor coats. 

While most teachers don’t ban heaters in their classes, several continue to do so. Rather than keeping them alert, the freezing temperatures only serve to distract students from their studies. If the school has its own coat but continues to ban such a padded coat from indoor use, the question remains, what can students do to resolve the issue? 

Unfortunately, the problems do not stop with the goose down jacket. Indeed, the uniform policy also limits students’ attire in terms of shoes, skirt lengths, and so on. The KISJ requires students to wear only black shoes, but students struggle to see the difference between wearing white or black footwear. On another note, many students see the uniform’s design, which has the logo spread across the tie, as problematic. On this issue, Annika asserts,

 “The school certainly has to respect our freedom of expression in terms of fashion. Restricting our clothes is no way to show us respect, and the design of the uniform is not good enough to make us comfortable wearing it every day.” 

Even though some students do speak up, it can be difficult to achieve positive change in the short term. Seeing as students spend most of their time at school, however, it is essential that the KISJ takes note of what students say, need, and also oppose. To reach a mutually beneficial outcome, it is key for both the school and its students to take a few steps back, communicate actively, and meet in the middle when possible. 

Minjae Lee 
Sophomore (Grade 10)
Korea International School Jeju

Minjae Lee  student_reporter@dherald.com

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