If “Honesty is the best policy” , what is no policy at all? A bit on school uniforms

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Feb 14, 2014 4 Comments ›› DaveAiazzi

Underdogs

I generally root for the underdogs. Most people do. And when I can, I help them. In the many times I was the underdog, I appreciated any and all help I received.

With that preface, I would like to discuss the issue of school uniforms in the Washoe County School District, more specifically the issue swirling around who should decide on school uniforms and my involvement as a Trustee.

A bit of background

In 2012, a local elementary school established a school uniform policy. Several parents didn’t like how the policy was implemented. One parent sued the School District. As a result of that lawsuit, the District is now embroiled in two separate lawsuits. First, with the Ninth Circuit Court involving First Amendment issues. Second, with the Nevada Supreme Court discussing the legal aspects of a whether a particular school may establish a uniform policy without the entire District establishing one. This is a simplification of the complexity of the suits, but I believe this is the crux of the issue.

First Amendment issues are very touchy and fraught with opinions. This particular case is at the Ninth Circuit Court and I will leave that issue alone for now. However, I take my role as a Trustee very seriously, particularly when it comes to public participation. All sides of an issue need to be heard. Like/dislike, agree/disagree. All opinions must be heard.

Continuing with the background. Soon after I was elected Trustee, I was told about the uniform issue. A meeting was arranged with the person who is suing the District and I was able to hear their side of the issue. I took that conversation to the Attorney for the School Board and was told that this lawsuit has cost the taxpayers in the hundreds of thousands of dollars (the school district had hired outside counsel). After meeting with the attorney, I came to believe the lawsuits may have been avoided if this person had felt listened to by the District or by the Trustees.

While listening may have helped, it is apparent that this all swirls around the law, specifically NRS 392.415;

NRS 392.415 Authorization to establish policy of uniforms for pupils and dress code for educational personnel; financial assistance for pupils to purchase uniforms.

1. The board of trustees of a school district may, in consultation with the schools within the district, parents and legal guardians of pupils who are enrolled in the district, and associations and organizations representing licensed educational personnel within the district, establish a policy that requires pupils to wear school uniforms.
2. The policy must:
(a) Describe the uniforms;
(b) Designate which pupils must wear the uniforms; and
(c) Designate the hours or events during which the uniforms must be worn.
3. If the board of trustees of a school district establishes a policy that requires pupils to wear school uniforms, the board shall facilitate the acquisition of school uniforms for pupils whose parents or legal guardians request financial assistance to purchase the uniforms.
4. The board of trustees of a school district may establish a dress code enforceable during school hours for the teachers and other personnel employed by the board of trustees.
(Added to NRS by 1997, 2488)—(Substituted in revision for NRS 392.458)

This is the law, so if there are three lawyers in a room there will likely be at least three interpretations of it. The legislature specifically authorizes the Board of Trustees to establish a school uniform policy. An individual school may not institute a policy until the District has one (my opinion). As of today, there is no District-wide policy on school uniforms in Washoe County.

A Sausage Factory is Opened

In an attempt to “head off” the possibility that the District may lose in Court, and because it seems the right thing to do, on May 15, 2013 I asked the Trustees to form a Uniform Policy Committee. After some discussion, we agreed to form a committee. We also acted to stop
any schools that were contemplating uniforms to cease those activities until the District had a policy in place. We asked that the uniform committee make recommendations by the end of 2013. I also requested that the person suing the school district be asked to join the committee so their voice could be heard. Five months passed before the committee’s first meeting.

I suggested the formation of the Uniform Committee to help answer key questions. Some of those questions are;

  • Who should vote on whether uniforms will be required at a school? (does each family get a vote, each parent, one vote for each child in that school, etc.)?
  • Should a new vote take place every five years?
  • If uniforms are implemented (or not) based on a vote, should a vote of the parents be taken every few years or is it permanent?
  • Who can make changes to the uniform (can a scarf be added, or a shirt with the Debate Club’s Logo)?
  • Where can students purchase the uniforms?

 
After clarification on these questions the Trustees would set a District-wide policy for establishing uniform policies at individual schools. This will include specifics about how the policy will be carried out and how it can be modified. Then, individual schools, working within the District wide policy, will be able to implement uniforms, or not. 

Let the Public Process Begin…

I attended the first meeting of the Uniform Committee on October 3, 2013. Because of the late start, they had little time to come up with recommendations for the 2014-2015 school year. That first meeting was a bit contentious as the merits of school uniforms was being debated. (Please see the box to the right.)

After the first meeting, I started receiving phone calls from angry parents. I was told that someone who is involved in litigation with the District had no right to be on any committee. Some people came to the meeting to speak under Public Comment portion of the meeting (which is, of course, their right and I respect it) to tell us in no uncertain terms that this person should be removed from this committee. These very vocal, and adamant behaviors are the same tactics that embroiled us in this lawsuit to begin with. Thankfully, despite a loud few, the Trustees did not waiver.

It comes to a head

On January 14, 2014, the Trustees received an update from our legal counsel about the Uniform Committee. I wish it had been presented differently and, as a result of my defending a member of the public who was “technically correct” (not my words), another Trustee attempted to chastise me. I was surprised by the allegation that I was asking questions only because the person suing the district is my friend. As I was explaining that I know this person only through meetings regarding uniforms, I was shouted down.

For the record, I doubt the person who brought the lawsuit would consider me a friend but I hope she considers the Board of Trustees as a place where grievances can be heard and discussed by all sides of an issue.

Isn’t this why we are all here?

 

 


Comments

  1. Paul Kiser says:

    My son attends Coral Academy of Science, a WCSD public charter school. Uniforms are required and we support the policy. I also support teachers, who are trained professionals, to be the primary decision-makers in the classroom.

    However, I am increasing frustrated with administrators who talk about how important parent involvement is to their school, but then exclude parents from the decision-making process. I can’t speak for the typical WCSD school, but at Coral the parents are welcome to raise money for the school and volunteer in the classroom, but that is where involvement ends.

    Board meetings are not held on a consistent day and are publicized by posting a notice in the school or at the library about a week before the meeting. No notice is put out in the parent communications (email or phone.) Last year, we did not learn of the new school calendar until late in the year and the final version was not approved May. Parents were not involved, except those parents who were administrators or Board members.

    I was elected to be President of the Parent-Teacher “Club” for this school year and I heard from parents and teachers that the administrators did not communicate to the parents. I began working toward improving communications and we (the Parent Teacher Club Board) renamed the Parent Teacher Club to the Parent Teacher Alliance in order to show that the school respected parent involvement and were partners in the school. I notified all the administrators, including the Executive Director, of what we were doing and why. We spent much of last summer revising our Bylaws and preparing for the new year.

    When school started the Executive Director told me we could not speak at school orientation, as we had done in the past, nor would we be allowed to have any activities on campus. The name change was the reason cited, and I was told that I failed to communicate the changes to the Executive Director, which was a lie. In the end, the issue was about control by the Executive Director. By resigning and changing the name back to the Parent Teacher Club, he allowed the organization to exist.

    Again, I can’t speak for what is going on at other WCSD schools, but I can speak to the issue of school administrators being threatened by parent involvement that is not subservient in nature.

    Parents can be an important part of the success of a school, but not unless administrators are willing to accept parents as partners, not just money and labor.

  2. GARY KLAHR says:

    THE EASY SOLUTION TO THE SCHOOL UNI Q IS TO ALLOW PARENT OPT-OUT AS IN CALIF., NYC AND MIAMI. BELIEVE IT OR NOT, NON-MANDATORY UNI POLICIES DO WORK AS WIN-WIN IN MANY PLACES

  3. Iqbal Emam says:

    I too believe that uniform is a necessary thing in schools.Uniforms promote equality between different students at school.For school uniforms in Dubai contact Wang Uniforms .

  4. M A Suboor says:

    It is very necessary for a school to have uniforms.It increases the feeling of equality and instills discipline among kids.The reason why that parent had sued the school because he might have felt, that he was not listened properly.http://www.granduniformsdubai.com/school-education-uniforms.html

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