School uniforms are legal State backs Bayonne and denies parent appeal

A war of words between parents protesting the Bayonne School Uniform policy came to an end on April 4 with a ruling from the State Department of Education that backed local school officials right to require students in the elementary schools to wear uniforms and supported the enforcement policies instituted.

Kenneth Hampton, attorney for the Bayonne Board of Education, said the state ruled against parents who had raised objections to the uniform policy.

“The state said the state commissioner of education was right in dismissing the case the parents brought,” Hampton said.

Assistant Superintendent for Policy Robert Craig said this ruling covers both the uniform and the district’s enforcement.

Just prior to school starting in September 2006, several parents filed suit against the school district to halt the implementation of a new school uniform policy in Bayonne.

In a 14-page decision released in early November, Administrative Law Judge Mumtaz Bari-Brown said objectors filing the suit failed to meet the 90-day requirement to file a complaint. The group of parents filed their suit on Oct. 10 – well over 100 days after the Board of Education voted on June 19 to implement the policy.

In December, the State Education Commissioner agreed to review the case and allow the parents to make additional comments on how the uniform policy was implemented.

While the original uniform case was dismissed for failing to meet the timeline, the commissioner’s office granted the parents more time to submit their arguments, leaving the legal challenge open.

Bayonne Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patricia McGeehan said granting this was a standard practice.

But after a review of the original case, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education sided with the court, saying that the parents had failed to file the suit within the 90-day time limit as prescribed by state law. The commissioner’s office said that a review showed the court had acted properly.

“Upon a comprehensive review of the record, the commission concurs with the Administrative Law Judge,” said a statement issued by the commissioner’s office on Dec. 11. “This matter was appropriately dismissed as it was filed outside the 90-day limitation period.”

The statement went on to say that the commissioner agreed that the parents had failed to make their case for halting the policy, even if the matter had been filed in time.

Attorneys for the district said that since the policy went into effect, only nine students out of 6,500 elementary school students are not in compliance with the policy.

The parents then filed an appeal of the commissioner’s ruling to the state Education Board, which ruled in the district’s favor, saying the commissioner and the courts had acted properly and that the uniform policy met the letter of law.

High School looks to implement uniform policy, too

Shortly, parents will begin receiving a survey that will ask about the possibility of expanding school uniforms to the high school.

Earlier this year, Bayonne High School Principal Richard Baccarella headed a committee to explore the possibility.

On March 22, the uniform steering committee made its recommendations while several students modeled some sample uniforms. These will provide more choice for students since the uniforms would come with a variety of colored tops to be worn with black or khaki pants.

While the district will have a multi-step program to discipline students who fail to comply, suspension will not be one of the options.

The survey is expected to reach parents over the next week or two. From it, the board will need to determine if there is enough community support to move ahead. A high percentage of approval makes this decision easier. The difficulty arises if the percentage is evenly split between those who support it and those who don’t.

Baccarella said the committee would do its best to provide all the information possible for parents to decide. The Board of Education will have to make the final decision.

email to Al Sullivan


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group