East Hartford Students Stand Up to School Board Over Uniforms

Adam Talbot (“Alan” in the clip above), who will be a senior at CIBA this fall, and his fellow students are organizing in opposition to the school board’s recent decision to implement a school uniform policy. Adam founded the group “East Hartford Students Against Uniforms” which sent out a press release prompting the news report above. An excerpt is below:

Elected student leaders from the two main high schools in East Hartford, The Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy and East Hartford High School, released a strongly worded letter today, calling the July 2nd Board of Education passage of a uniform-based dress code “unorthodox,” “slapdash,” and an “improperly vetted limitation of student liberty and expression.” The letter echoes the criticisms of Board Member Prescille Yamamoto that the new policy was ill-timed and poorly written.

“The vote was held just before the July 4th holiday at a meeting attended by only two members of the public, it would certainly seem that public debate on this issue was kept to a minimum,” says CIBA student Adam Talbot, the author of the letter. Talbot, President of the East Hartford chapter of the National Honor Society, was joined by signatories Amber Jackson, the President of the East Hartford Student Body, Zachary Kessler, the President of the Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy Student Advisory Board, Jeanika Browne-Springer, the Vice-President of the Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy Student Advisory Board and Kelly Rivera, the Senior Student Representative to the Board of Education.

The letter, written on the 4th of July, alleges that the debate on the adopted memorandum passed on the 2nd was incomplete and that sufficient input from members of the public who are affected by the measure was not allowed. It goes on to call for an imposed moratorium on the policy until a special session of the Board can be held to serve as a public forum on the issue followed by a revote on the issue. The letter cites Yamamoto’s criticism that the Board violated several of its own policies to pass the measure so quickly. It goes on to ask that this special session be held before the Board of Education’s next regular meeting, which is scheduled for the 6th of August.

The letter specifically takes issue with the unclear wording of the new code, which appears to mandate skirts and polo shirts for females, and slacks and polo shirts for males. The letter states that this new code already violates the 1969 precedent set by the Tinker v. Des Moines case, which guarantees a student’s right to free expression. However, the letter continues, if skirts are compulsory and females are unable to opt for slacks the new code would be all the more odious.

As is made clear in the clip, these students aren’t opposed to reasonable dress code restrictions (banning hats/headwear, for example), but they are not to be trifled with.

My advice to members of the East Hartford School Board: Listen to the students. You cannot win this one without looking like asses.

Read the East Hartford Students Against Uniforms letter after the break.

July 4th, 2007

Members of the Board of Education:

As the elected leaders of the two East Harford high schools, we write to you this Independence Day, the day this country’s founders fought to ensure our basic rights and liberties that would later be immortalized in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, to strongly condemn the passage of the new East Hartford Dress code for the 2007/2008 year. This “brief memorandum” was approved without traditional prerequisite forewarning two days before the July 4th holiday at a meeting attended by just two members of the public.1 The approval of this memo was so unorthodox and the method of its passage so slapdash that one member was prompted to call its implementation “very, very inappropriate.”2

The method of its adoption alone would be enough to scrap the whole policy, but the adopted code itself seems to be rife with inequity, reflecting a tenuous vetting process and a seeming lack of logical consideration of options. While we understand the safety considerations made in the old dress code for some items, i.e. flip flops, and that this old code faced problems of implementation, this new dress code certainly does not address these problems. Indeed, several items in the new policy simply defy explanation. These holes in its methodology come to light when the policy itself is further examined.

The press reports on the adopted memo are unclear as to whether skirts are compulsory for females. Should they be mandated, it would not only be reminiscent of the age of the unliberated woman, but would also be an attack on the comfort levels of many female students. To force them into a type of fashion that is uncomfortable, unnatural, or alien to them is a limitation of their individual rights, and would certainly not foster “a sense of pride”3 to one’s school. The same idea applies for males. To compel a student to purchase a new wardrobe that they would not themselves choose to wear is in violation of the 1969 Supreme Court precedent of Tinker v. Des Moines, which ensured the right to a student’s free expression.

Furthermore, the student body takes particular offense to seemingly unsystematic choice of banned colors. In particular, students of the Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy are no longer allowed to wear their school color (red), and the Gay-Straight Alliances of the two schools are no longer allowed to utilize their unity color (pink). Whether intended or not, this suppression of student pride, expression, and activity must be overturned.

It is the impression of the undersigned that these stringent policies have no basis in reason, due process, or necessity. This new policy has already been called poorly written and ill-timed by Board member Yamamoto.4 We, the undersigned, would tend to agree with her. Board member Howe has said that many in the school system knew such a plan was coming. The eleventh-hour method of this plan’s adoption seems to suggest otherwise. We cannot be certain until open debate on the issue is welcomed. If it is true that there is “strong interest among parents and administrators in this plan,”5 there is no better way to affirm this than by allowing open debate on the issue, with proper prior notice to involved parties. However, as the issue currently stands, many unanswered questions remain:

  • What was the declared necessity of this change in policy?
  • What evidence of effectiveness was used in determining that this policy should be implemented?
  • Why did the Board deem it necessary to implement this policy now, in the middle of the summer before a holiday, rather than at an earlier time to ensure for, as the chairwoman put it, “a smooth transition,” between the plans?6

We eagerly await your response,

Adam Talbot
Founder, East Hartford Students Against Uniforms
President, Tucker Blake Chapter, East Hartford National Honor Society
Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy Class of 2008

Jeanika Browne-Springer
Vice-President, Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy Student Advisory Board
Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy Class of 2008

Amber Jackson
President, East Hartford High School Student Council
East Hartford High School Class of 2008

Zachary Kessler
President, Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy Student Advisory Board
Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy Class of 2009

Kelly Rivera
Senior Board of Education Representative
East Hartford High School Class of 2008

1Rubin, Ben. 2007. EH Ed Board unexpectedly adopts stringent dress code. Journal Inquirer, July 3rd.
2Ibid., Quote from Member Yamamoto
3Ibid., Quote from Member Aberasturia
4Ibid., Quote from Member Yamamoto
5Ibid., Quote from Member Howe
6Ibid., Quote from Chairwoman Mayranen-O’Brien

6 Responses to “East Hartford Students Stand Up to School Board Over Uniforms”

  1. Karen Mayfield

    First of all, I attended the first 90 minutes of tonight’s meeting and was particularly impressed with how the students organized and presented themselves. You should be very proud of yourselves. I couldn’t stay to speak, but I have three comments to make. First, while I have a daughter in EHMS, I also have a son who attends Cornerstone Christian School, where I am the “uniform mom.” My volunteer job is to store used uniforms and give them to students who request them. My reason for doing this is so that I have easy access to hand-me-downs for my son. I am against having to purchase uniforms for my daughter, and I am not below poverty level. This uniform policy would be a financial burden for everyone, especially the poor. And I can’t tell you how often the boy’s slacks blow out in the knees. Second, my favorite color is green. I was born on Saint Patrick’s Day, and I used to love to wear green on my birthday. This may seem petty and small to the board members, but to me it was a big deal. (I’m 44 and it still is.) East Hartford is so rich in it’s cultural diversity that I’m sure there are many students who have their “little thing” that the new policy would deprive them of. Third, I would love to know how many members of the board actually have to wear a uniform to work every day. I work in the medical field and abide by a dress code, but I do not have to wear a uniform. Frankly I think the comment that this uniform policy would help prepare students for adult life is ridiculous. I believe that the person who said prisoners have to wear a uniform hit the nail on the head, because that’s how some students are going to feel.
    Thank you for your work keeping us informed. I am so pleased with the support I saw tonight. You certainly have mine. Karen Mayfield

  2. K. Taka

    I graduated from high school four years ago, and I remember dreading the idea of having to wear a uniform. Luckily, I graduated before anything happened, but I was very specific in the kinds of clothes I would wear and the colors. I liked comfortable, loose-fitting pants and regular-fitting tops. I hated skirts, and being a tall girl, it was difficult for me to find pants that fit. If I was forced to wear specific colors of specific clothing mandated by the town, I would have been a wreck. I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on my studies, I would constantly be uncomfortable and distracted in school because of my clothes. Aren’t uniforms supposed to take the worry and stress OUT of clothing? In many cases, it would be CONTRIBUTING significantly to the worry and stress of clothing, not to mention the increased financial burden of buying uniforms.

    Ms. Mayfield brought up a very good point when she pointed out that none of the board members have to wear uniforms. I cannot think of many professions that require uniforms, except for working in retail…and how many students strive to work in retail?

    I applaud the students of East Hartford who are fighting against this injustice. Never be afraid to speak up! If you speak loud enough you WILL be heard!

  3. cindy w

    We as parents need to stress to our students, the reason we are pushing towards a dress code and uniforms. For too many years it has been,” do whatever
    and a lot of students have taken it to the estreem. There are always people who will try to go beyond the bar and it hurt everyone else.
    I truly believe we either need a VERY strict dress code or uniforms. Maybe we should start with the strict dress code for the High School.

    My child is in 2 grade and most of the students and parents want a dress code.

  4. Lilly

    That I like the fact that we have uniforms 🙂 but may be we should have a dress down day !

  5. brittany s

    this is gonna be my first year at east hartford and then i found out i have to wear uniform for school.i used to live in hartford and i had to wear uniform for school so now i have to wear uniform again?

  6. Romy

    NO! I dont want uniforms!