Sherman Says: If students wore uniforms to school, would bus aide have been mocked?
The 10 minutes of profane taunting endured on June 18 by bus monitor Karen Klein was captured on a low-quality video clip that has been seen around the world. The students attend Greece Athena Middle School. “I was trying to just ignore them, hoping they would go away, and it doesn’t work,” Klein said, in an interview published by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “Trust me, they didn’t go away.”
The taunting included profanity, insults, jeers, physical ridicule and threats to Klein’s person and home. “The kids weren’t always that bad,” she said.
School district officials said any punishment for the guilty students won’t be dished out until September, providing the kids with week after week of summer slacking or anxiety about what will happen in the fall.
Klein, a hearing-impaired grandmother of eight, was reduced to tears as the students showed their worst behavior for all the world to see.
The student who shot the video with his cell phone is equally guilty, because he did nothing to stop what he was witnessing. He was an indifferent accomplice. He is just as responsible for this injustice as those who taunted Klein.
One area school board held a discussion with a slim connection to the Greece incident the following night. The Sweet Home Board of Education, which represents a diverse neighborhood spanning the Amherst-town of Tonawanda border, had previously scheduled a formal conversation on the high school dress code. Eventually, the talk turned to school uniforms.
A couple of board members referenced the attire of some students at a recent awards night event. “We saw some things that night that we didn’t want to see,” said Board Member Carol Nowak.
“I’m disgusted by the dress I see when I visit the schools,” said Board Member Scott Johnson. “Uniforms? This is a strong argument for them, [although] I don’t want to go that route.”
Board Member Doug Galli hit the nail squarely on the head. “The only ones who don’t want school uniforms are the kids,” Galli said. “In my mind, you can’t compromise.”
Sarah Fiordaliso, a graduating senior who serves as an ex-officio member of the board of education, said her fellow students really do not know what is acceptable for classroom attire. “I know some really great kids and I look at them and ask, ‘Why are they dressed like that?’” she said. “Clear guidelines are needed and should be enforced in the entire school.” She said the high school faculty does not enforce the dress code equally. “I’ve had teachers who did not want to address it. Others kept [extra] sweaters and shirts in the room,” she said. “Once I got to high school, it was not put in our face enough. It was clearer in middle school.”
High School Principal Joleen Reinholz said her faculty and staff members prefer to speak to students in violation of the dress code and “educate them” so that they can cover up or change the offending attire quickly and get back to class. In the case of repeat offenders, parents are called and the student does not return to class until a meeting is held.
This is clearly a waste of valuable education time, as well as time lost to well-paid administrators. They have better things to do than to act as baby sitters to children almost old enough to enlist in the Army.
Reinholz spoke proudly about a brochure that will be mailed to parents this summer, vividly illustrating the best and worst of the district’s dress code. It’s a good move, but what happens when students change clothes once they reach their lockers?
If students were mandated to wear a school uniform to, from and while in school, they might feel differently about abusing a person in authority. A uniform gives equality to students of all financial means and makes them part of a larger family. A family that respects each other.
David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.