December 20, 2005
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB Courant Staff Writer
Barely a week into his new role as chairman of the Hartford school board, Mayor Eddie A. Perez is charging the board to study the idea of putting every student into a uniform to help maintain order and change the climate in the schools.
The school board tonight is expected to act on Perez's call to create two new task forces: one to find ways to increase enrollment in four-year colleges, and another to improve school safety. Uniforms falls under the heading of safety.
"It has a lot of effects on school climate and school pride," Perez said.
Already, 15 city schools and all 10 of the district's magnet schools strongly recommend school uniforms, although without a districtwide policy, none of the schools can legally require them. There is not a districtwide uniform; each school comes up with its own.
"I'm so happy that we are moving in the right direction," said Delia Bello, principal of Sanchez Elementary School, one of the first elementary schools in the district to implement a uniform policy.
With the power of a district policy to back her up, Bello said, she would be able to enforce her own code strictly.
"Youngsters need a message to show who is in charge," Bello said. "By assigning a uniform, I, as an adult, am sending a message that I am in charge."
Perez and Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry concur, and say that uniforms could also help schools eliminate distractions. "They give students a sense of identity and belonging," Henry said. "And it takes away all the competition for clothing."
But Sam Saylor, president of the districtwide PTO and the owner of a business that sells uniforms, opposes the idea.
"It doesn't create a passion for education, nor does it bring order to a school," he said.
When his son enrolled in a magnet school that asks students to wear uniforms, the students put the focus on expensive shoes and began taunting each other for wearing the wrong shoes, he said.
Saylor said it also gives teachers, who he believes are already stretched thin, another thing to worry about. And, he said, it gives parents another thing to worry about - and to pay for.
Perez said that choosing the colors and style for each school's uniform could become a good project for parents to work on. The project could help draw parents into participating in the schools, and build school spirit, he said.
If the district requires the uniforms, it would probably have to help pay for them, Perez said. In some of the schools that already have uniforms, money is raised from corporate partners and PTO fundraisers.
But when those fundraisers and contributions don't cover costs, he said, the district will have to help. It will be up to the task force to determine the potential cost to the district, he said.
Since Bello implemented a dress code at Sanchez - blue jeans or a blue dress and a white or red shirt with the school logo - she said she has seen a change in her school's climate and a surge of school pride.
When merchants or adults in the Park Street area see her students walking the streets, she said, they know the kids are skipping class and call the school to report them.
Also, Bello said, uniforms help diminish the role of clothing to help cliques or gang-like groups from setting themselves apart. And they reduce the pressure to wear expensive clothes that are the style of the day.
"Some kids feel bad if they can't afford the expensive styles," she said.
Perez, who has appointed a majority of the board, said he expects the task force to report its findings in about three months.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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