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|School Board Tries Soft Start to Uniforms|
By Evan Brandt
Monday, June 25, 2007
POTTSTOWN -- Uniforms will not be required in Pottstown schools come the start of school in August, but they will be available.
With the clock ticking away the days until the new school year begins, the board shied away Thursday from leaving parents such a short window for purchasing a new wardrobe for their children, particularly because a new uniform policy has yet to be written.
Instead, the board accepted the recommendation from member Amy Bathurst-Francis, one of two board members on a committee studying the issue, to break the matter to Pottstown gently with something she called “a soft start.”
What that translates into is that the uniforms, which will be required in the 2008-09 school year, will be available but not required in the 2007-08 school year. They will be available at Schuylkill Valley Sports, the only retail outlet at which Pottstown school uniforms will be sold.
Bathurst-Francis said the committee met with two companies, Schuylkill Valley and a company called French Toast, and selected Schuylkill Valley because Pottstown residents without cars and computers could get to the store by bus. Furthermore, Schuylkill Valley offered to do in-school fittings.
“I personally think the prices are very competitive,” Bathurst-Francis said.
She said she calculated that a year’s supply of uniforms for one child, including gym clothes, could be had for about $167, adding that the clothes had “a one-year warranty.”
But school board member Robert Hartman worried that requiring the clothes be purchased at Schuylkill Valley, and that, say, a similar shirt could not be purchased for $5 at a discount store, could cause financial hardship.
“Some people don’t spend that much a year on clothing,” Hartman said of the $167 estimate.
“Some spend that much on a pair of tennis shoes,” quipped school board President Barry Robertson.
“I think a large majority of our families will find this is a much more affordable way to clothe their children,” Bathurst-Francis said.
“I’ve had a lot of feedback from people who say they’d love to have a uniform, but doing it this way will give us enough time to work out any kinks that come up,” she said.
Julia Wilson, who will join the board in December, said she favors uniforms, but just had a few questions about why Schuylkill Valley Sports was selected. “I find them to be pretty pricey,” she said.
Bathurst-Francis said the company will offer rebates and discounts.
Not everyone spoke in favor of the idea. Former school board member Rick Huss, whose May 15 primary victory will put him back on the board in December, said the district does not need a uniform policy.
“Buying two to three changes per week per child will be costly, especially for those with more than one child,” he said. “For those families, it could come out to more than $1,000.”
He said the district adopted a dress code several years ago but that the administration at the middle school and high school did not enforce it properly.
“We do not need a uniform policy; the current dress code just needs to be enforced,” Huss said.
That is exactly what the board does not want teachers and administrators doing, Bathurst-Francis said.
“If you have something they can’t tell is appropriate with a glance, the teacher will spend an hour checking uniforms, and that’s the last thing we want our teachers to do,” Bathurst-Francis said.
Having uniforms with a logo will make enforcement easy, she said.
The last thing the teachers themselves want to do, it seems, is have to wear uniforms. They do work under a dress code.
“The teachers were quite adamant that they did not want a uniform policy to affect them in any way,” said Bathurst-Francis.
The students, particularly at the high school level, were equally adamant that they wanted input into the uniform policy, said Edwin Edwards, the other school board member who served on the uniform committee.
“They’re biggest concern is how can they accessorize,” he said. “Some of them were talking about a jacket that only 12th-graders can wear,” he said.
“That age group, if you’re not working with them, they’ll work against you,” Edwards added.
Hartman agreed, recalling that at one point, when the current dress code was being implemented, “we had to have an emergency board meeting and work some things out because we were going to have a student walk-out.”
Theoretically that won’t happen in August because, as Robertson pointed out, with a “soft start, we don’t have to do anything because we’re not going to enforce anything.”