REGION 16 — The Region 16 Board of Education is looking into implementing a school uniform policy after the idea was suggested by two state legislators.
In a letter addressed to Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin and school board Chair Donna Cullen, state representatives Theresa Conroy (D-105) and Lezlye Zupkus (R-89) voiced their “strong support” for the implementation of a school uniform program next school year.
“As you are aware, Region 16 is home to residents from various socioeconomic levels, from lower-income to the more affluent. … At a time in our state’s economy when families are financially struggling, with many living paycheck to paycheck, a school uniform program would greatly reduce the cost burden by providing an economical alternative for clothing while creating a level playing field among students,” the legislators wrote in the letter.
The letter was presented to the board, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, at its meeting May 27. The board has had discussions in the past about school uniforms, Yamin said, but the last one was about 10 years ago.
The current dress code spells out what type of clothing is prohibited, but not what students have to wear. In 2013, the board approved revisions to the dress code policy.
The revisions added some prohibited clothing, including clothing with excessive holes and attire that can create a hostile environment, such as clothing with sexually harassing comments or symbols. The revisions also added an emphasis on school staff to implement the dress code, set forth an appeal process for parents and laid out clear escalating repercussions for violations.
Conroy, whose district includes Beacon Falls, and Zupkus, whose district includes Prospect, wrote that a uniform policy has many benefits, “the most important of those are to keep students focused on their education, not their clothing, and to reduce bullying and peer pressure.”
The legislators added in the letter that studies have also shown that school uniform programs have positive overall effects on students, including increased pride in their schools and a sense of unity and belonging, which contributes to a decrease in student behavioral issues.
Conroy and Zupkus wrote they support a uniform program that “is flexible and offers parents and students the ability to have options,” and pointed to a new policy adopted in the Waterbury school system as a successful implementation of the program.
The Waterbury Board of Education adopted a stricter dress code policy for high school students earlier this year. The changes take effect in the 2015-16 school year. According to Waterbury Republican-American archives, the policy narrows options for shirts and bottoms to two colors — black districtwide and one more color varying by high school. Middle school students at Waterbury Arts Magnet School will also be affected, as they share a building with high school students, according to the archives.
The initial reaction to the idea was a no for at least one board member. Vice Chair Priscilla Cretella said she didn’t favor the idea since Region 16 is a public school system.
The board referred the matter to its policy committee to review.
Cullen said, in a subsequent interview, the idea is worth researching. She said the board will seek input from parents and students with a survey.
“I really want to hear how people feel about it, especially the parents and students,” Cullen said.