Hartford Schools' Uniforms Change, With Little Notice
By ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER | Courant Staff Writer
August 21, 2008
Gloria Rodriguez thought she had finished back-to-school shopping for her daughters, picking up shirts and pants in blue and tan to fit the uniform requirement for Kennelly School. Then, last week, she got the letter: the school's uniform colors had changed for this year.
Only blue. No tan.
Jennifer Kelley didn't hear any instructions about uniforms over the summer before her senior year at Bulkeley High School, so she spent her money on other things — namely, visits to colleges. Then last Friday, with 10 days until school and no money saved for clothes, Kelley got the letter: she'd need to wear a blazer, blouse, khaki pants and black shoes to go to school.
With schools across Hartford set to open Monday, parents and students are buzzing about the district's uniform policy, which many say has generated confusion because of changes announced on short notice.
Some schools changed the uniforms themselves, from allowing three colors last year to only one this year. That was part of a planned evolution from having "multiform" uniforms to a single set of colors, intended to give each school a distinctive uniform, Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski said.
But some parents didn't get letters about the new colors until last week.
"We shouldn't be thinking about uniforms. We should be thinking about, 'I can't wait to go to school,'" said Milly Arciniegas, president of the PTO Presidents' Council.
Arciniegas said she and other PTO presidents have heard from hundreds of parents confused about the uniforms. Some have bought the old colors, while others have traveled outside the city to buy uniforms from schools' specified vendors because they don't have credit cards to purchase them over the phone or online.
But officials say the policies are not as restrictive as parents may think.
At a school board meeting Tuesday night, Adamowski said parents who purchased uniforms in the wrong colors can exchange them at the schools. Schools are creating uniform banks.
School officials also said that while some schools have selected preferred vendors, families may purchase uniforms anywhere for most of the schools. Schools that require special insignias on the uniforms should have iron-on patches that can be added to clothing bought without the logos, though in some cases with more specific clothing requirements, the uniforms may only be available through one company.
Anyone who may have financial difficulties purchasing uniforms should speak to his or her school's family resource aide, officials said.
But Arciniegas said parents haven't all been told that.
At the board meeting Tuesday night, she asked for a longer window of time for students to transition to the uniforms, particularly since the requirements are changing at many schools as parents face a tough economy.
"It's really hitting them hard," she said.
While some magnet schools have had uniforms for years, uniforms became required at all elementary and middle schools two years ago. This year is the first time all high school students will be required to wear them.
The uniforms, which are set by each principal, vary widely, from a set of blue scrubs at Hartford Public High School's new nursing academy to blazers with ties or scarves at Bulkeley's upper school.
Sam Saylor, a Hartford businessman and former president of the PTO Presidents' Council, raised another concern: why do schools pick preferred vendors outside the city while businesses in Hartford — including Saylor's — sell uniforms, too?
Board members, who passed a districtwide attire policy Tuesday night, suggested establishing a minority business enterprise program for uniforms and other purchases in the district, which Adamowski also endorsed.
Kelley, 16, said she is skeptical of the effectiveness of uniforms when the school's previous dress code wasn't enforced. She plans to begin the school year dressed conservatively but not in uniform.
She's not thrilled about having to buy uniforms for one year, particularly since the late notice left her without the cash to buy them before the school year starts.
"If they had told us back in June, we'd have budgeted for that," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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