Students walking into Emerson Dual Language Elementary school in Loring Park this fall won't be wearing any neon-colored shirts or tops featuring their favorite superheroes.

That's because the magnet school is the latest in Minneapolis Public Schools to implement a dress code, requiring its students to pair a solid-colored top in either red, blue, black or white with blue, black or khaki pants. That decision came after a schoolwide vote that showed 55% of families were in favor of adding uniforms.

"My thought on uniforms has always been that it needs to be a community decision," said Emerson Principal Jim Clark.

The district's policy states that "the standards of dress for school should conform to the standards generally accepted by the local community. The administration with student and parent cooperation is encouraged to participate in establishing acceptable minimum standards for student dress."

In the 2020-2021 school year, five of the city's public schools — Cityview, Sheridan Arts, Bethune, Hall and Nellie Stone Johnson — required uniforms. That number dropped to just two schools — Cityview and Sheridan, now called Las Estrellas — for the 2021-2022 school year. Like Emerson, Las Estrellas is a Spanish dual-language magnet school.

Elena Espinoza, the mother of rising first- and sixth-graders at Emerson, said standardizing students' outfits can alleviate one target of bullying and negate any shame students may have about what they wear. Plus, she said, putting on a dedicated school outfit can help children feel prepared for learning.

For Adriana Cerrillo, a Minneapolis school board member and the guardian of a nephew who attended Emerson, uniforms represent her culture and that of many of the Spanish-speaking families at Emerson, where about 56% of students are Hispanic. Cerrillo grew up in Mexico, where school uniforms were standard.

"They also represent unity among us," she said.

Some Emerson parents, however, worry that the process of adopting uniforms and the results of the vote actually represent a split among the school's families.

"Many supporters of uniforms have stated that uniforms will strengthen the community, but with a completely divided response in the vote, this process and decision is doing the opposite," said Janet Eckhoff, the mother of two Emerson students, one going into first grade and the other into third grade. She said the policy is a "superficial" attempt at promoting an academic culture.

Each family got one vote per student. Both her children voted against having uniforms. Teachers also got one vote; 79% of the educators who voted supported the new policy. Overall, more than 90% of those who could vote did.

The district's comprehensive redesign reshuffled school boundaries and relocated several city magnets more toward the center of the city. That meant that Emerson suddenly had new families from other schools.

Clark said some Spanish-speaking families at Emerson wanted to discuss the possibility of adding uniforms, and the discussion began with the site council in the fall of 2021. He then put out a survey to families and found out that about 65% of those who responded were in favor of a uniform policy.

But some parents expressed concern about the survey, saying it wasn't representative. The parents association organized a vote in the spring and the results were announced in June.

Clark says he understands the arguments both for and against uniforms, but he said the decision ultimately comes down to preference for a majority of families.

"There's nothing especially good or bad about having them or not having them," he said. "I think it can go either way."