Anti-Uniform Testimony to New Jersey State Board of Education May 27th, 2015
By Tova Felder
I'd like to start off with a quotation I read recently, by John Oliver. He's a comedian, but he made a great point: "One in four Americans is skeptical about climate change. Who cares? That doesn't matter. You don't need people's opinions on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking which number is bigger, 5 or 15? Or do owls exist? Or are there hats?"
As a school board, I depend on you and my local board to make decisions based on best educational practices, sound evidence from legitimate studies by reputable educators and researchers, and widely accepted knowledge about how children learn and which factors influence that learning.
I count on you to demand more than opinion, beliefs, or hopes when it comes to setting policy for our schools.
I would be remiss to not even mention PARCC, as I am one of the five petitioners who filed the Citizens' Request for a Rule Change. Policy for that test needs to have much clearer and stronger language which acknowledges its many flaws and protects our children, educators, and schools. Many of my peers here will address the issues with that test, I'm sure.
However, tonight I need to address the issue of NJ Statue 18A:11-8, which gives school districts the authority to mandate uniforms in public schools.
In my city of Clifton, not far from this school, the freedom allowed to school boards in this statute is being abused by some members of our Board of Education who are attempting to push through a policy that was NOT initiated by interested principals, staff and parents from any school in the district and is NOT being considered on a school by school basis as per the wording of the statute.
Instead, the Board sent out a highly biased survey which told parents that "research shows" how uniforms will be beneficial to our children and then asked a series of questions about whether or not we should have them in Clifton. I've attached a copy of this survey for you all to see. Additionally, the survey was sent home with every child, so families with more than one child received more than one survey.
Selected Clifton Elementary Parents were sent the new
2015 Clifton Schools "Dress Code Policy" Survey
starting 4/4/2015. (Download as Acrobat PDF)
One of our Board members, who is also on her school's PTO Board, went around to several elementary schools to speak about the benefits of uniforms. She gave a one-sided view to parents, promoting her particular agenda…all before most of the Clifton taxpayers had any idea this was even being brought up again (for the third time in seven years). She then made a presentation at a School Board meeting, again promoting uniforms, that was not even listed on the agenda as mandated by law. This entire process has been done in a way which completely ignores what the statute allows for and that has many of us now distrusting our School Board.
Clifton is not a city riddled by gang violence, which is the main problem uniforms were originally intended to address.
The issue, much like some of the issues with PARCC, is one of standardization.
Dressing all of our children in flat front khakis and a tucked in, collared polo shirt is an attempt to control them. They, those who are in favor of uniforms, want to control the perception of economic disparity. In an attempt to mask the obvious signs of poverty evidenced by wardrobe, they are in fact teaching a terrible lesson – that poverty is shameful and should be covered up.
They want to control how girls and young ladies present themselves by making them cover up their distracting girls' bodies and dress like the boys do…though of course they can't actually say that.
They want to control our children's behavior, but instead of addressing the issues behind any behavior problems, they are looking to a uniform to create an atmosphere of compliance.
It's what you see in a prison, too.
This is not "education."
I believe that Statute 18A:11-8 is a bad one and would love to see it completely repealed.
In the absence of that, its language needs to be clearer and stronger. The language which says that a board of education "may" provide a provision for parents to opt out is nowhere near good enough. That needs to say "shall", like it does for the other stipulations.
Parents, like me, who have children with special needs who might be unfairly challenged by the restrictive nature of a uniform, need a clear and non-punitive way of defending their children against this added burden.
Parents, like me, who believe that addressing some deep societal inequalities with a knit shirt is a fool's errand, need a clear and non-punitive way of defending their children against this failure to address the real issues.
And parents, like me, who have a moral objection to dressing 10,000 children like they're heading off to work at Target need a clear and non-punitive way of defending their children against yet another attempt to standardize them.
Please step in. Demand that the Clifton Board of Education halts its current work and follows the law, then correct that law to protect families and children from this unfair, un-American, attempt at standardizing our kids.