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Catasauqua school board debates uniforms for students

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 05 2014 06:04:14 AM CST
Catasauqua School Board
CATASAUQUA, Pa. -

Looks like kids in Catasauqua Area School District won't start wearing school uniforms any time in the foreseeable future.

After school board members debated the issue Tuesday night, a discouraged Penny Hahn, the board president, declared it is a dead issue.

Board members did seem to agree on one thing: too many students are not following the district's existing dress code.

Board member Carol McCarthy said uniforms should be required only if the school district is facing a huge dress code problem that only implementing such a policy will solve.

Hahn argued that problem exists now. She said every time she goes to the high school she sees "chests hanging out" and exposed underwear.

She said if girls would be wearing uniform polo shirts, "what are the chances of chests hanging out?"

"I see how the kids are dressing," said Hahn, a volunteer coach for the girl's volleyball program.

Hahn had a 4-3 majority if she had decided to call for a vote to move forward on the student uniforms issue. But she said that support was not overwhelming enough.

Supporting her were board members Carol Cunningham, Duane Deitrich and
Donald Panto. All said they are for school uniforms.

"We thought it wasn't enough of a majority," said Hahn after the meeting.

"There's not definitive support for this," said Cunningham at the end of the discussion.

"I see no reason to even think about moving forward," said Deitrich.

"If we don't have consensus on going forward then we let it die," said Panto.

"I tried," said Hahn. "When people in the community ask about uniforms, I'll tell them what happened."

About 1,700 children attend the district's three schools.

Opposing uniforms for Catasauqua students were board members McCarthy, Dawn Berrigan and Christine Naegel.

Without accurate data to justify the need for student uniforms, McCarthy asked: "How can I make an entire community base their child's wardrobe on something we can't definitively define?"

Board members Mary Alice Hartranft and Christine Nace were not at the meeting.

Without naming names, Hahn believes one of them would have supported uniforms for students, but the other would not.

Hahn began the discussion by proposing a committee of three board members be created to review the Allentown School District's uniform policy and bring some recommendations for Catasauqua students back to the full board.

Allentown implemented its mandatory student uniform policy last September, after debating the issue for more than a year.

Hahn said ASD's uniform handbook had been given to all Catasauqua board members and she asked if they wanted to discuss it.

Hahn said in December the school board voted 5-4 to move forward on developing a policy on student uniforms.

"We could have another motion, but just looking at the people here tonight, I'm thinking it's going to be the same result," said Hahn.

Superintendent Robert Spengler said about six months ago the board considered a motion directing the administration to begin the process of developing such a policy. One board member noted that motion failed.

Resident opposes uniforms

Only eight people attended the full school board meeting, including two reporters.

One woman addressed the board about the uniform policy before the board discussed it.

"This would cost my family quite a bit more money for clothing than what we currently spend," said resident Holly Kaeppel. "And I know my family is not the only family whose children's wardrobes are almost fully comprised of hand-me-downs, gifts and thrift shop items. None of those resources are good for uniforms."

Kaeppel said Allentown schools require different uniforms for elementary, middle and high school, which would add to the expense for parents. And she maintained the fact that Allentown School District requires uniforms for students gives uniforms a negative connotation.

Kaeppel indicated there are both name-brand and Walmart versions of uniforms, so social strata are not eliminated by requiring uniforms.

She also said uniforms do not address the problem of inconsistent enforcement of the district's dress code. Even with uniforms, she said differences in hair, jewelry and even personal hygiene would separate students.

Board opinions

Board members debated whether student uniforms would save parents money on clothing costs or cost them more.

Some who oppose uniforms said children will need more clothing because they will not wear those uniforms outside school, but will change into different clothes as soon as they get home from school.

Naegel said she previously supported the idea of student uniforms, but realized it's unfair to financially punish parents just because "some students aren't listening."

McCarthy questioned whether uniforms are needed if the district's current dress code is effective. She said before reviewing ASD's policy, Catasauqua's school board should know how many dress code infractions the district now is dealing with and what percentage of those infractions would be eliminated by having students wear
uniforms.

Naegel said students not adhering to the dress code should never get beyond homeroom at the start of the school day. She said the dress code is not being enforced "right when students walk through the door."

McCarthy asked what the benchmarks the district would use to determine whether or not a uniforms policy is successful. After spending time and money to put students into uniforms, McCarthy asked: "Are we going to be reluctant to admit whether it's working or not?"

Berrigan said uniforms won't necessarily end some problems, such as students wearing sagging pants.

Panto argued that a uniforms policy "has a lot of virtues. We've missed an opportunity to tap into something special." He said uniforms instill a sense of pride and harmony in students.

But Panto also acknowledged: "It sounds like it's not going to get traction. I don't feel like going to the wall with it if it doesn't really have support either by the board, the administration or the community."

Principals

Eric Dauberman, principal of the district's Sheckler Elementary School, said he's on the fence about the school uniforms issue. "It probably would mean more work for me if I did have a uniforms code to enforce, because for the most part my kids come to school okay," said Dauberman.

The principal said it would be tough to quantify the need because what can't be measured is how many kids are bullied for what they are wearing or not wearing, but don't say they're being bullied. He said an untold number of kids are getting put down on a daily basis because of what they have or don't have. "You can't measure it if you're not told about it," said Dauberman.

Berrigan indicated bullying will never be completely stopped, not even with school uniforms. She said she was bullied when she was in school and added: "I would venture to guess that the majority of us sitting in this room were bullied at some point or another in school."

Catasauqua Middle School principal Melissa Inselmann and Catasauqua High School principal David Ascani also were at the board meeting, but did not take positions on the student uniforms issue.

Inselmann and Ascani did offer to get the board data regarding the numbers and of dress code infractions in their schools, but at the end of the discussion Hahn said: "I guess wee don't need your data."

Ascani said there are not many such infractions. He said enforcement will be an issue whether or not students are wearing uniforms. He also said enforcing the dress code is not always the top priority for busy teachers "but we do our best to enforce it."