August 24, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Meredith Browne was frustrated, holding up a navy blue skort that would have fit her daughter, who is heading into pre-kindergarten at Rawson Elementary School in Hartford.
If only she could find the same skort in a maroon and white plaid.
Browne, who was shopping Tuesday at Wal-Mart, was under the impression that the city's new school uniform policy required the pattern. But, as it turns out, Browne could have bought that navy blue skort and been done with her shopping. Although Rawson does have the maroon and white plaid as an option for youngsters, that is in addition to the standard uniform policy, which includes navy blue skorts.
The policy adopted by the school board is fairly straightforward, but there are minor variations from one school to another that have made for an interesting back-to-school shopping season in the city. Most of the confusion, officials say, is based on the optional color that each school is allowed to add to the standard uniform.
"There's a certain degree of confusion as there would be with anything of this size and anything new," said district spokesman Terry D'Italia. "We're encouraging people to call their schools."
Schools may punish students for violating the uniform policy, but D'Italia said allowances will be made when school begins in early September. While many city schools already had voluntary dress codes, the new policy establishes a mandatory citywide standard for all middle and elementary school students.
"I'm not expecting 100 percent compliance on day one," he said. "That would be miraculous with 20,000 kids. There will be a 21-day grace period for purchasing and wearing uniforms. We're not going to start any sanctions or discipline until the 21 [calendar] days are up."
Some confusion notwithstanding, in and around Hartford, thousands of parents of Hartford schoolchildren are hitting the stores looking for sanctioned clothing.
Judy Huertas was among them and she was having trouble finding the right-size pants for her tall eighth-grade daughter. But Huertas would not be daunted. Since Wal-Mart didn't have what she needed, she planned to go to the mall.
Her intrepid spirit wasn't a hit with her kids, but the financial savings she was realizing made the uniforms a hit with Huertas. By her estimation, she was spending about half the money on uniforms that she would spend on a fresh wardrobe of brand-name clothing.
"My kids like to wear whatever's in style," Huertas said. "They are not happy. But I prefer the uniforms because it's less money."
The goal of the policy is to foster pride in school and create an atmosphere focused on learning. By requiring all students to wear the same colors and styles, officials also hope to promote self-esteem and diminish fighting by cutting back on teasing over clothing and disparities in wealth.
Angel Ayala, an 11-year-old heading into seventh grade at Fox Middle School, was holding five pairs of pants while he shopped for his uniform at Joey'z Shopping Spree just over the West Hartford border, and he was glad he didn't have to worry about what to wear to fit in.
"It's more like you're smart," Angel said of the uniforms. "And the clothes won't start fights. Some people will tease you for what you're wearing. It'll be better if we're all dressed the same so nobody will tease you for what you're wearing."
To spread the word about the new policy, school officials have been distributing fliers to parents and two family resource aides are working full time at the registration center to explain the uniform policy to new parents.
The fliers describe the full range of color options, including, for example, navy blue, gray or khaki pants, jumpers, skirts or skorts worn or belted at the waist. Shirts may be light blue, white or yellow and schools may add an optional color.
But the directions sent home to parents are a hodge-podge. Parents at Burr School were informed about the full range of options available: "In order to make our attire look more uniform, our preference here at Burr School is khaki pants and white shirts," a letter sent home says. "Please note that this is simply a uniform preference and not a requirement."
Other schools have sent letters to parents that make it appear as if the given preference is the only acceptable option. The policy approved by the school board in the spring, however, does not give principals the authority to ban any of the approved colors.
"Some principals want to differentiate their schools and they're making it appear as if there is a more limited number of colors, but that is not the case," D'Italia said, adding that the superintendent will send a letter to principals directing them to make the board's policy clear to parents.
Sam Saylor, president of the PTO Presidents Council and a uniform vendor, said the PTO is asking the district to delay sanctions for 60 days, in part because some people who can't afford to buy new wardrobes have not applied for financial help and because some parents don't understand the full range of colors that are permitted for specific schools.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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