East Detroit board decides not to require uniforms

By: April Lehmbeck | Online Only | Published February 18, 2011


Despite months of committee work to develop a proposal for a new uniform-based dress code, the East Detroit Public Schools board decided that the best plan of action is to enforce the dress code that is already on the books.

The board voted 5-2 to step up enforcement of the dress code, but not to initiate a major change like uniforms during its Feb. 17 meeting.

“I’m not happy with the school dress code because it’s not being enforced properly,” Board Trustee Paul Seibert said.

“These are not private schools. These are public schools,” he said. “The students have a point. They’ve spoken to us.”

When the board approved the motion, the students in the room burst into enthusiastic applause.

Board Secretary Margaret Podsiadlik and Trustee Jon Gruenberg voted against the measure, both wanting to initiate a new dress code. The committee included board members, parents and teachers.

If it had passed as it was presented, the new code would have included polo-style shirts in white, navy, light blue or winter green and pants, shorts or skorts in navy, black or khaki.

Students would have had to wear clothes that fit properly to avoid things like pants that are too baggy and falling down. The clothes could have been purchased in most retail stores like Target and Kmart.

Gruenberg offered a compromise that included a plan to allow parents to opt their children out of the dress code if they met other requirements like wearing identification that shows they didn’t opt in to the dress code.

He made a motion, but that motion didn’t garner any support.

There had been some talk among board members at a recent meeting of phasing in a dress code by starting with younger grades.

Several students spoke out against the initiation of a uniform-style dress code during the hearing of the public, one even citing case law concerning the legality of such a change.

“Putting us in uniform is saying we’re all the same,” East Detroit High School student Meaghan Lynch said, adding that the board should instead work on major issues like the dropout rate.

A representative of the East Detroit Federation of Teachers said this is not the time to initiate such a major change with all the other big changes going on in the district in the next year, like the reconfiguration plan in the elementary schools.

“It’s a huge, huge change for our district,” Seibert said.

Some, including board members, mentioned concerns that such a major change might drive families from the district.

Board Vice President Craig Wodecki said he wouldn’t have been surprised if the district passed this type of dress code and then advertisements from nearby districts included statements that they don’t have uniforms.

“The competition for these students is absolutely frightening,” he said.

A couple of residents, including Kevin Rowley, commented on why the district should not initiate such a change, but another resident came forward and said uniforms would be good for the district.

Rowley agreed with sentiments expressed by Board Trustee Matt Vroman that a school uniform does not improve academic achievement.

“What helps children learn better is cooperative education that begins at home,” Rowley said.

Vroman’s comments about the focus on achievement from a recent meeting also made an impression on Wodecki, who said he had been thinking about those words for the last couple of weeks.

“Matt had said we’re looking for achievement, and that’s the bottom line,” Wodecki said.

Board Treasurer Craig Brozowski said he is in support of uniforms, but not with current changes and funding issues facing the district from the state in the near future.

“The best and brightest among our students are saying, ‘We don’t want it,’” he added.

The board asked the students who came out to help by setting the example and helping to make the current dress code important to other students.

Board President Carol Corrie was one of those board members. She said she had supported uniforms in the lower elementary just because she thought it could save families money.

“I do believe we have a problem adhering to the dress code in the upper grades,” she said.

She asked the students to try to help with the dress code.

“Sometimes kids have a way of talking to other kids,” she said. “My biggest problem is the saggy pants.”

Superintendent Joanne Lelekatch told the board that she would be meeting with administrators to start discussions about how they can work on enforcement across the board.

“It’s the inconsistencies that become the issue,” she said.