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Despite some parent wishes, no school uniforms

Many Sunnyside School District students can wipe their brow in relief.

Sunnyside School Board members voted last night, Thursday, to nix uniforms after a year-long investigation into its pros and cons.

But it wasn't without hearing from numerous parents who spoke in favor of the issue.

At the heart of parental concerns conveyed to directors last night was economics and student safety.

Luz Balderas, mother and community activist, told directors that Sunnyside is a community comprised of high numbers of low income earning families. Balderas said after the meeting through an interpreter, "We're a community without a lot of money. Money is limited and it's difficult buying all of the clothing for all of the kids."

The mindset between her and other parents, like Ezekiel Olmeda, is that if school uniforms are required, parents will save money. Olmeda, who spoke through an interpreter during the meeting, said, "We want to understand your rules...your goals."

Sister Mary Rita Rhode of Nuestra Castra, an organization that works closely with immigrant women and children, said the buzz she is hearing from parents also directly relates to the issue of finances. She also said parents feel uniforms are tied directly to school safety and that gang colors would less likely be shown.

"They know the uniforms aren't going to help academics necessarily," she said.

That was an important factor in decision making for School Board Director Steve Carpenter, who had said at the June meeting that he did not want to move forward with implementing the plan unless there was concrete evidence that indicated school uniforms directly gave student learning a boost.

Superintendent Rick Cole told directors that he found little evidence to support uniforms helped student achievement or impacted school safety. In fact, he called the Wahluke School District superintendent who told him that kids are now simply being more creative in finding a way to demonstrate gang colors, like tying colored threads around buttons. "It hasn't really changed the gang activity," Cole said.

Sunnyside School Board Director Rocky Simmons conceded there's no data to support an impact on academic learning, but he did say he really wants the district to look into its dress code practices.

The subject matter, he said, "is worth a little more pursuit of pointed questions and with a deliberate process."

Others, like Carpenter, disagreed and felt the issue had been investigated enough.

School Board Director Lorenzo Garza said, "Sometimes we try to put clothing on people, or get them a haircut, or manicure, and it's an immediate band-aid." He added it doesn't really change a person.

School Board President Miguel Puente moved to not move forward with school uniforms at this time and Carpenter seconded, but added to the motion, to graciously accept the uniform committee's report.

Carpenter and Garza voted in favor, with Simmons voting against it.

The motion passed.

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