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|School Board Needs to Show Leadership on Uniforms Issue|
The school uniforms debate has raged on, even after the Pottstown School Board decided to ease into uniforms by making them voluntary this year.
The latest salvos being fired at a school board meeting last week were from one woman who claimed the uniform vendor, Schuylkill Valley Sporting Goods, is not living up to its promises because the school logos are printed, not embroidered.
Superintendent David Krem noted that the school district should not get involved in customer-service issues, but neither Krem nor board members pointed out at the public meeting that Schuylkill Valley was adhering to the school board’s directions.
The next day, in a letter to The Mercury, Schuylkill Valley CEO Randy Ruch pointed out that the school district’s internal debate about uniforms, which changed the status from mandatory to volunteer, affected the pricing. “Anyone who understands the lettering business knows that the higher the volume, the lower the price. We, as a company, decided to maintain the original price with the cost increases in lettering to be completely absorbed by us,” Ruch said.
“Further, we have delivered exactly according to our commitment,” Ruch wrote. “What was to be embroidered was embroidered. What was to be screened, we screened. ... Due to our high commitment to quality, at our expense, we have decided to embroider the button-down shirts.”
Ruch pointed out that the store located in the Coventry Mall offers parents a convenient, easy way to order locally, but if the “political football situation persists,” the store will bow out of the “uniform picture.”
Complaints about everything to do with the uniforms have been bounced back and forth among school officials, parents and students since the idea was first suggested. The decision to make uniforms voluntary this year seemed like a good compromise when it was decided, but it has not eased the anxiety and instead has escalated confusion.
In the latest wrinkle, Krem suggested last week that students should be encouraged to wear clothes similar to the outlined uniform.
Parents could buy navy blue shirts and khakis for students without the required logo. This would meet the criteria of similar dress for students but answer some of the parents’ complaints about having to purchase from one vendor.
But that solution aggravates the problem for Schuylkill Valley which partnered with the school district in good faith.
The school uniforms debate in Pottstown has become another example of the school district trying to do the right thing, but botching the public relations.
Uniforms have a known benefit in schools of eliminating distractions and aiding in school security precautions. But, instituting a new policy to require uniforms --- regardless of the potential benefit --- is bound to ruffle some feathers.
Once a decision is made, it is up to the school board and administration to demonstrate leadership.
The anxiety about changing to uniforms will pass, and Pottstown will be at the forefront of what soon may become a movement to make dress more consistent in public schools.
For now, however, the district has confused parents and alienated a business partner.
Initiating uniforms is a good idea, but the benefit is becoming lost in the execution.