After Parent Complaint, Hartford Revises School Uniform Policy
Provides Alternative So Students Aren't Kept Out of Classroom
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
January 16, 2013
HARTFORD —— Thais Ortolaza complained to the board of education last year after her son at Naylor School was threatened with suspension for not wearing his mandatory — and relatively pricey — school polo shirt one day.
This week, Ortolaza watched with her son, now 13, as the board revised its student attire policy to make school uniforms more affordable for families, and revoked a clause that had allowed schools to keep students out of the classroom for a uniform violation.
The previous policy stated that "all students are required to adhere to their school's uniform and shall not be admitted to class out of uniform."
But Ortolaza argued that a child's right to a free public education is violated under such a practice — particularly, she said, when many Hartford parents who already struggle financially are prevented from shopping around for the best deal on school clothes.
"I don't think that attire should ever be a reason why a child should be kicked out of a classroom," Ortolaza said.
More than 20 city schools, including Naylor, require students to wear shirts with a school-specific logo. Those shirts are sold at a limited number of businesses. Several magnet schools have also designated a single, "exclusive" vendor from which families must purchase uniforms.
At the Sport and Medical Sciences Academy, where Tuesday night's board meeting was held, a mandatory sweater vest with the school logo costs $30.84, according to the uniform vendor's website.
Ortolaza has three sons who attend the Naylor/CCSU Leadership Academy, a neighborhood school on Franklin Avenue that serves up to eighth grade. For the current school year, she said, she spent $211.90 for 15 polo shirts with the embroidered Naylor logo, or about $14 for each short-sleeved shirt.
"Old Navy had polo shirts without logos for $5" each, Ortolaza said. On the day her son got scolded last academic year, she said, he was wearing a polo shirt, but not the school-sanctioned one.
The policy requires that schools keep a supply of uniforms that students can borrow if they are violating the dress code. Parents can also submit a written request and statement of financial need to the school principal for help buying uniforms.
However, school board Secretary Robert Cotto Jr. said he believed that conflicts over uniforms were leading to students being disciplined for insubordination. The uniform "was becoming a barrier rather than a facilitator of the kid being in class," he said.
As chairman of the board's policy committee, Cotto spent hours revising the policy with other members, including Mayor Pedro Segarra, over the past few months.
The policy still requires school uniforms, but now includes softer language: Students "are expected to attend classes in a complete uniform ... Principal discretion may be used in unique situations." The reference to students not being allowed into class has been deleted.
The revised policy also prohibits sole source vendors of Hartford school uniforms. The owner of The Connecticut Shirt Man, the exclusive uniform vendor for a few city magnet schools, such as Sport and Medical Sciences, could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
In addition, the policy states, schools should provide logos "whenever possible" that parents can iron on or sew into shirts.
Some city schools have cited dress code violations as a reason for suspending students. While details for each case are not known, Classical Magnet School, for example, reported 14 in-school suspensions among students in grades 6 to 11 who violated the code, according to the district's discipline data for the 2011-12 year.
That same year, Bulkeley High's Upper School, which has a uniform that includes a mandatory blazer that currently costs $69, reported 18 suspensions for dress code violations. Among 11th graders, there were 10 in-school suspensions and two out of school, the data show.
Weaver Journalism and Media Academy, which also serves high school students, reported 26 suspensions related to the dress code.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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