Last Tuesday, 99 West New York parents endured the snowy weather to voice their opinions about school uniforms.
The meeting, which was held in the auditorium, was called by the Organization of Parents and Faculty (or OPF, the equivalent of other towns’ PTA) and would determine the future dress code of Memorial High School students for the 2008-2009 school year.
Assisted by a PowerPoint presentation, Memorial Principal Robert Sanchez addressed the approximate 100 parents who attended, and made the school’s case in favor of uniforms. Sanchez’s main points were heard by all as Alina Mendoza, assistant principal of alternative education at Memorial, translated the speech for Spanish-speaking parents.
Sanchez noted that state statute (18A:11-7) requires that any school wanting to shift from individualized clothing to standardized school uniforms needs support from school officials and faculty, parents in the community, and finally, the Board of Education.
The school uniform would include a black polo shirt with an “M” insignia symbolizing Memorial. Students also have the option of wearing either khaki or black pants, in addition to what Sanchez called “appropriate” jeans.
When some parents questioned the rationale behind implementing a uniform policy and allowing students to wear jeans, Sanchez replied that wearing “appropriate” jeans (meaning jeans that are not ripped, patched, sagging, etc.) would be a stepping stone for the school. He said if students couldn’t comply, then jeans would be banned the following school year.
Dr. Robert Van Zanten, West New York’s superintendent of schools, said if any parents had financial difficulties purchasing the uniforms, they could contact the West New York Board of Education for financial assistance.
At the end of the lecture, parents were given forms to vote. Out of the 99 parents that voted, only one person voted against the policy.
The school’s case Sanchez said the primary reason to implement school uniforms is to promote safety. In addition to the existing police presence and district-wide ID cards for students and faculty, uniforms would help identify members of the school as well as prevent gang-related crimes.
“We know gangs exist in West New York – it’s no mystery – and we want to do our best to keep the school safe,” said Sanchez, adding, “We want to know if the people walking around the block in the morning or during lunch belong here or not.”
Although West New York already has a uniform policy in its elementary and middle schools, Sanchez noted that Memorial and North Bergen High School are two of the few schools in Hudson County who have not yet implemented a school uniform policy.
Recently, many schools in Hudson County have added a uniform policy including the towns of Jersey City, Secaucus, Union City, Hoboken, and Bayonne.
Who wants it?
Richard Patterson, who heads the OPF and teaches biology at Memorial, noted that last year parents asked him to implement a uniform policy.
“Last year, we surveyed 500 parents, and 76 percent of them were in favor of school uniforms,” said Patterson.
“I agree [with the policy],” said Gisela Castillo, a WNY parent whose daughter is a freshman. “It’s good for the students and the parents. I feel [we’re both] safer.”
In a recent survey, 86 percent of the school staff voted in favor of the dress code.
Not surprisingly, out of 383 students surveyed, 74 percent voted against the policy while only 26 percent favored it. Oddly enough, out of the 26 percent who voted in favor of uniforms, 43 percent of the votes were from 11th graders who had no previous experience with uniforms; a sharp contrast to their younger freshman and sophomore counterparts.
The revelation, however, came from student council votes from 77 delegates; out of those, 51 percent voted in favor of the policy after, according to Sanchez, they “saw the big picture.”
Brian Matos, a 16-year-old sophomore at Memorial, agreed.
“It’s going to be a lot easier for students,” said Matos. “It’s going to lead to a less stressful morning. There’s less shopping involved. It’s just going to be a lot easier.”
Nicolas Millan can be reached at NMillan@hudsonreporter.com.