Fed up with sagging pants that exposed her students' bottoms and tight tanks that revealed young girls' tops, Principal Delia Bello-Davila ordered a dress code at Maria Sanchez Elementary School four years ago. She quickly discovered it wasn't just students who weren't overly enamored of it.
While the majority of parents supported the dress code of blue jean pants or skirts and red or white shirts, several parents were upset. They told Bello-Davila that the dress requirements repressed their children's self expression and violated their rights. One couple even brought in a lawyer and threatened to sue.
"It ended up being a friendly conversation in which both sides learned more about the other's point of view," Bello-Davila said Tuesday at her Babcock Street school in Hartford. She spoke hours before the city school board would hear comments about its proposal to mandate uniforms for students in the elementary and middle schools next year. The dress code at Sanchez is still in effect, though not all of the students abide. And as the year goes on, Bello-Davila said, more and more students end up disregarding the policy.
I'm big on school unis. I've yet to see a high-achieving urban school where they weren't required. Maybe it's psychological, subliminal, or they just set a tone, but there's no doubt that uniforms contribute to discipline and order in top-flight city schools across the country.
So, though the board's proposal is one that may come across as long overdue, never underestimate the critical buy-in of parents and the reality that without enforcement of the mandatory dress code, this is just a wasted exercise.
There were no severe repercussions for dress code violators in the proposal discussed Tuesday night. First offense - verbal counseling and notify parents. Second offense - written warning. Third offense - written warning and mandatory meeting with parents. Fourth offense - loss of recess rights and prohibited from attending special school events.
Fifth offense - a whomp upside the head. (OK, there's no fifth offense, but c'mon already.)
Rules without harsh penalties usually become irrelevant. And if the parents aren't on board, forget about it. James Thompson is the retired principal of Simpson-Waverly School, which under his leadership became a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon school for its efforts in narrowing the academic achievement gap. He implemented school unis in 1992, but this came at the urging of parents.
"They really saw the value in moving toward the dress code and school uniforms," Thompson said. "The main thing for parents is that there are less distractions and it contributes to a high-achieving school environment."
Maria Gomez is a single mother of six children, three of whom attend Sanchez school, where she heads the PTO. Gomez is a strong supporter of uniforms. The dress code has made her a savvier shopper because she can buy in bulk.
"I only have to focus on uniforms and not which [child] is concerned about people ranking on him because he's not dressing hip enough," she said.
Jose Ruiz, 10, and Edmundo Velazauez, 9, both Sanchez students, said their peers will likely gripe about a schoolwide dress code "because they think they'll look nerdy." But both said uniforms could promote school spirit and safety.
"If a stranger comes in, you'll know," Jose said.
In public school classes, the kid out of uniform should be the exception - not the norm.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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