By Juhi Varma
The Exploratory Committee on School Uniforms held their first public hearing on the proposed School Uniform Survey on Monday, January 7, just before this month’s School Committee meeting. The Exploratory Committee, headed by Ward 3 School Committee Member Debbie DeMaria, was formed in October to inquire into the possibility of introducing compulsory school uniforms to Malden’s schools. Approximately 66,000 hard copies of the survey were distributed among Malden school children on January 2.
“One of our responsibilities as a School Committee is to identify a vision, to bring to the community ideas and suggestions for growth,” said DeMaria. “Schools around the country are reviewing the possibility of mandatory school uniforms.”
Students received a thick, 30-page document that included research supporting student dress codes and uniforms, information about school uniforms in other cultures, a table showing the prices of the suggested uniforms, and a survey for parents to fill out. The form is also available online; the deadline of the online submissions has been extended to midnight, January 14.
Monday night’s open forum, held to discuss opinions on both sides of the debate, drew a number of interested parents and city officials. Many of the parents opposed to mandatory uniforms are of the opinion that it would be an unnecessary expense in the already curtailed school budget.
“There are a whole bunch of questions here which are unclear,” said Ken Alper, parent of a Forestdale School student. “Why are we even talking about this? Is there a big problem? Central cities have major problems, Malden doesn’t. Cost is very important. Right now schools are under so much pressure for academics. Students need more attention right now. If you have a problem with a kid, the best way is to work with the kid and to help them learn how to become a responsible adult—wearing a uniform is not going to make a good kid.”
“I know there’s been serious research, but we haven’t seen all of it… You’re asking us to give up valuable educational tools in order to have all the students dress alike,” said another parent, Robin Farren. “You’re saying, ‘These are the 12 reasons uniforms are wonderful and one frankly dismissive reason why they might not be wonderful.’ Freedom of expression is wonderful, but all I hear the administrators talk about is, ‘Do you want less crimes in schools or do you want to give your child the option to be in a clique or a gang?’ They very much diminish…arguments against uniforms—plus, I do think it’s unconstitutional.”
According to the research presented in the survey, uniforms help create a safe and disciplined learning environment. “Parents asked why we we’re talking about this—I say, ‘Why not?’” said Debbie DeMaria. “We’re going to discuss grant opportunities for low income families. I believe, for most families, uniforms would be more affordable than a set of $40.00 sweaters or a pair of $150.00 sneakers. This is clearly not the most important item on the docket, but [it] would be remiss if Malden didn’t even discuss it.”
The members of the Exploratory Committee on School Uniforms are Deborah DeMaria, Kevin Casucci, Maria Doucette, John Froio, Adam Weldai, and Student Representative Catherine Poirier. There have been five subcommittees so far. The next open forum on the subject of school uniforms will be in March.