However, several weeks after it was announced that school uniforms would be adopted throughout the Secaucus school system for the 2006-2007 academic year, controversy has broken out over what the uniforms will actually consist of and regarding the repercussions of violating the new school uniform policy.
Janice Snuffer is a 1984 Secaucus High School graduate who has already put two children through the Secaucus school system with a third seven year-old child on the way. She does not question the wisdom of having a school dress code per se. However, she strongly objects to the way it is being done in her town.
"I think that the entire process was unclear," she said. "It was very rushed and not clearly communicated. There was only one opportunity for there to be a meeting about it at the last minute. There was also no discussion about what 'consequences' meant if you did not adhere to the dress code when this all started back in June. However, now I'm hearing that it could mean that our children could be suspended or expelled from school, or put in a special class until they comply."
Snuffer went on to explain the crux of her complaint.
"It's fine and dandy to have a dress code," she said. "But now the school board is saying that the kids have to wear a specific type of embroidered shirt with the school's name on it in a specific color from three specific companies. The initial impression was that you could pick up the items from any local store. There was no discussion about this. There was no process. It was not made clear to the parents that by not returning their surveys that they were given about the question of school uniforms that it would be considered a positive vote."
Principal begs to differ
Principal Fred Ponti of the Huber Street School painted a much different picture of events regarding school uniforms in Secaucus.
"If you go to the Secaucus Board of Education website (www.sboe.org), you can see the whole presentation that was laid out for parents and the choices that they have been given," he said. "We originally said that there were 10 to 13 companies that we were exploring working with. Unfortunately, many of those companies couldn't meet our needs. That's why we went with the companies Uniformity, Greene Uniform Company, and the Lands' End mail order company."
The issue of the use of Uniformity, a uniform company out of Newark, as the selected vendor for the Bayonne schools system's uniforms has caused a lot of rancor on the other side of Hudson County. Ponti seemed assured that the same scenario would not happen in Secaucus.
"That's why we offered people the option," he said. "We had over 80 percent approval at all levels for our plan. People knew that they had choices and had the opportunity many times over to voice their opinion."
Ponti had an even stronger opinion concerning whether expulsion is a viable option for students who do not comply with the new dress code.
"For the elementary school levels, after the first offense, parents will be notified. The second offense, there will be a conference with the principal. Third offense, students will be given a home tutor until there is compliance. Nowhere are we taking about expulsion during any of the presentations to the parents. Never."
School board member speaks out
Tom Troyer, a longtime Secaucus Board of Education member, doesn't think Secaucus is about to flatter Bayonne by imitation. However, he has some concerns going forward with school uniforms in Secaucus.
"Uniformity popped up again here, but we're not forcing anything down people's throats like they did in Bayonne," he said. "That's not the case. But a lot of people who got flyers from the schools about the dress code thought that they were talking about the concept of wearing uniforms, not voting yes or no on it. I was shocked that they got 80 percent of the vote. But does this mean that 80 percent of the people who voted were in favor of a dress code and the other people who did not vote do not intend to comply? What does it mean? If there is enough civil disobedience about this, we'll have to repeal this. We're not going to educate all of these students who refuse to wear uniforms at home. You know how costly that would be? That would be a hell of a thing to enforce. I have no idea how they are going to resolve this. I'm getting a lot of phone calls."
Parents look with concern to the fall
Janice Snuffer is resolved to see some changes in the new school uniform policy. She has begun the process of petitioning the state government to rescind the dress code in its current form. Besides practical concerns, she also has some philosophical qualms about the concept of school uniforms.
"The literature that came home from the school told us that uniforms would increase self-esteem and self-confidence in children. My family is very diverse in terms of language, ethnicity and race. By having everybody dress the same, I don't see how that increases self-expression or self-confidence. The idea of a dress code doesn't have to be a problem. The idea of being mandated to buy a uniform is. There should be some sort of alternative. This is supposed to be a public school in a free country."
Her husband Michael is even more direct.
"Uniforms are for the military and prisons," he said.