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Students will have a new look in fall: uniforms

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD The new school uniform policy received a quick reaction from a parent of a student attending the Indian Orchard Elementary School: she wants to sue the city.

Outside of the school last week as she was picking up her child, Kim Houle said she was completely against it and claimed she never received the parental survey that was sent home with all city students.

Another Indian Orchard Elementary School parent, Margaret Bryden, asked, "What's next? Tuition?"

Houle's reaction ran counter to that of the reported parental acceptance of the idea of uniforms expressed by School Committee member Antonette Pepe at Thursday's School Committee meeting.

Pepe has championed the idea of uniforms for the past four years. Fellow members Michael Rodgers and Marjorie Hurst joined her on a committee exploring uniforms.

This fall all of the city's public school students will be mandated to wear a uniform. To help parents with financial needs make the transition from normal street clothes for their children to the uniform, Pepe said there will be a separate fund established for financial aid. She said that each school's business partner would be asked to assist in the creation of the fund.

Rodgers said the uniform policy "is another tool in the tool kit to move student achievement forward."

He added the policy was "very well vetted."

Surveys were sent out to parents and meetings at schools were conducted Pepe said in response to questions from Vice Chair Kenneth Shea who wanted to make sure the uniform policy didn't receive the same kind of negative reaction the cell phone ban received from both parents and students.

Principals will be able to have "dress down days" to use as positive re-enforcement, Pepe said.

All elementary and middle school students will wear navy blue, tan or khaki pants, skirts, jumpers or shorts with a light blue or white shirt.

There will be no colored wristbands, neck beads, headbands, or doo rags allowed. No cargo pants, jeans, hip huggers, sweat pants, pajamas or clothing with insignia, pictures or messages will be acceptable. No sandals, Heelies or rollers will be allowed as footwear.

The guidelines also note, "the principal has a right to stop any pattern, for example groups wearing identical earrings, chains, bracelets, etc. or anything that may be mistaken for gang affiliation."

Parents can obtain exemptions for religious or health reasons. Boys Scout or Girl Scout uniforms, or the uniforms of other nationally recognized youth organizations are acceptable on the day a student has a meeting.

Each high school will have their own color: Central will have black shirts and tan pants or skirts; Putnam will have gray tops and navy pants; The High School of the Science & Technology will have navy shirts and tan pants or skirts; and the High School of Commerce will have red shirts and tan pants or skirts.

No over-sized clothing will be allowed in any school. Coats, jackets, hooded sweatshirts, caps or hats aren't to be worn during the school day.

If a student is not in compliance, on the first time, the parent or guardian will be notified to bring the appropriate clothing to school and the student will receive a detention or demerit. On the second occurrence, the parent or guardian will be notified to bring the appropriate clothing to school and the student will receive three hours of detention or demerit. On the third occurrence, the parent or guardian will be notified to bring the appropriate clothing to school and the student will receive one day in-house detention. On the fourth occurrence the incident will be considered defiance and the Code of Conduct will be applied.

School Committee Chair Domenic Sarno said the new policy should help bring "respect, self-esteem, discipline and order" to the city's schools.

He added, "That's not to say that individualism is taken away . what's taken away is peer pressure."

Houle may not give the policy a chance. She said if she can arrange moving out of the city, she will.