The school uniform conversation, which comes up nearly annually, was prompted at the July meeting of the Bayonne Board of Education by resident and parent Lisa Downey, who is calling for a change in the district’s uniform policy.
Downey had written multiple letters to the board. She wants parents to be able to spend their money on uniforms at stores that they choose, possibly saving money in the process, and not be forced to shop for uniforms at specific stores.
“So many people are faced with financial challenges,” Downey said. “The school is even providing free lunch to make sure people are fed. So I don’t really get how it’s reasonable to expect those same families to be paying premium prices at these uniform stores. Some families can only afford one shirt for their kids. These kids go to school in unfortunately, dirty, torn, worn out, shirts. It’s two sets of clothing for families that we shouldn’t have to do.”
“It’s not an isolated incident,” Downey said. “It’s not just a few people who want to see changes.”
Board President Maria Valado deferred the question to Superintendent of Schools John Niesz, because the enforcement of uniforms “is under his domain.”
Niesz asked to clarify if the “complaint” was that the uniforms were too expensive. Downey reiterated that yes, it was about the cost, but added that it was also about principle.
“It’s not a complaint, it’s a concern,” Downey said. “Number one, it’s a free public school education. So this should be about education, not what the kids are wearing. We should be encouraging kids to express themselves through the way they look, not telling them they are only going to be accepted if they look like everyone else or if they dress like everyone else. We should be embracing their individuality, not telling them you have to be the same.”
Downey continued: “As for the cost, whether or not people can afford to shop in the uniform stores, I don’t know where the Board of Education gets the right actually to tell us where we need to shop in order to send our kids to a public school.”
Niesz responded with an “okay.”
Seeking other vendors
“We will review your concerns as a board and see if there are alternative uniform stores we could work with,” Valado said. “We will open up the discussion and see what we can do to adjust.”
Valado said that Niesz will send a letter to the community letting parents know what uniform stores the district will be working with and what uniforms the students will have to wear.
Said Trustee David “Doc” Watson, “I went to school when there were no uniforms, and the problem was the children that couldn’t afford expensive [Nike] Air Jordans and couldn’t dress in the expensive stylish look, they were bullied. So the pressure of being individual when it comes to your attire at school became a problem. And that’s why uniforms came into being in Bayonne years ago. So that’s something you might want to consider.”
Downey was quick to point out that the bullying still exists.
“The kids that can afford them are still wearing Air Jordans, whereas the other kids who can’t, aren’t,” Downey said. “Kids are still being bullied unfortunately.”
Following the meeting, the conversation continued on social media. While many agreed with Downey, others said that it was cheaper to buy the uniforms than to continuously buy new clothes for their kids throughout the year.
Downey said that her preference is to get rid of uniforms, but at the minimum she wants the district to allow parents to purchase uniforms at the store they prefer.
More on the topic may be announced at the next Board of Education meeting or through a letter from the superintendent. For more information, go to bboed.org.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.