Today I had a meeting with the principal about students who want to use the library while they're off track. (For those of you out of the loop, our school is year-round, with three tracks that go four months on and two months off. So, there are always two tracks on, and one off.) In the past, we've allowed off-track kids to wander onto campus and come to the libary as long as they could show their school IDs at the front entrance. Sadly, some young darlings have chosen to abuse this arrangement, bypassing the library entrance completely to visit teachers in their classes, go to the PE field or locker room, or just randomly wander. It makes sense that the principal needs to tighten things up a bit, and we came to a decent enough agreement that kids could visit the library from 8am-11:30am while off track. They still need to sign in at the front entrance, show their IDs, and (this is new) wear their school uniforms.
This is the part that really interests me. They're off track. They are coming from home for maybe as few as 10 minutes to return a book. Why do they need to change clothes? I'll tell you why. According to our assistant principal in charge of security, our uniform policy is going down the tubes fast and we need to save it before there is mass chaos at the school (Oh no! Cute shoes! Funny t-shirts! Personal style! Aaahh!).
More and more kids are showing up every day completely out of uniform. What is the reason for this? Is it defiance, protest, civil disobedience? Nope. It's the economy. I really wouldn't have thought of this, since I just assumed that kids who bought their uniforms at the beginning of the year would still be able to use them. Then I remembered that, of course, kids grow. So some of our families can no longer afford to buy new clothes for their kids. Or at least not two sets, one for school and one for home. But there are other, less obvious reasons for this too. Our kids and their families are moving, and moving quickly, into and out of their homes. We have kids coming back from Riverside and other outlying communities where their families hopefully bought houses and then could not make it work, or had ballooning mortgages, or lost their jobs and came back to live with family. We have kids who are evicted and actually have to leave their homes without being given the time to pack all of their things. Perhaps some of them even come home to a house or apartment where the locks have already been changed and their things have been lost in the shuffle.
So what does the school administration do in this situation? Is there some kind of precedence? They can't very well punish a child in these circumstances, nor can they abolish the uniform system. As of now, I believe they are using a two-step process to fix the situation. Step one has some interesting implications.
Step one: Have the parents sign a uniform waiver so everything is on the up-and-up. You see, the school district has a very secret uniform waiver that parents can request that allows their student to come to school without a uniform. At most schools, the administration will try to talk parents out of this, listing all sorts of scary security reasons that justify uniforms in the first place. Every once in a while though, one meets a cool kid in cool clothes and asks, "Why are you not in uniform?" The cool kid will coolly reply, "I've got a waiver, miss." And then one can share a short moment with the cool kid where the following is communicated telepathically: You have cool parents who thwart the system, therefore you too are probably cool, and you should know that I am cool and thwart the system, only I can't really do so openly because this is a school and I am a teacher, but you should know that I dig it, man.
In terms of this current uniform and economy crisis, however, the waiver serves a different purpose. It's just there to make sure that everyone's i's and t's are properly dotted and crossed, and I'll bet that it is presented to the parents in such a way that they walk away believing it is only available as a temporary measure and not as a permanent choice. The danger for the administration, obviously, is that some of these kids and parents will uncover the truth and decide they want to continue the waiver for good. I'm really hoping that happens, if only to observe the hands-tied reaction of those who will undoubtedly hate it.
Step Two in the process to get these kids dressed is to send a very nice man to the home of the student and (I believe) begin some paperwork to get uniform clothes for the family that are paid for by.....and here I just don't know. The school, the district? It's anyone's guess. What I heard today is that it takes a few weeks to make this happen, so I assume paperwork is involved. And who is this nice man? None other than our Pupil Services and Attendance officer, known to most of us as the Truancy Officer. Usually when you see him coming, it means someone has missed a lot of school and the school demands answers! He's actually very kind and nothing at all like Edward Rooney, but nonetheless, his job can't be easy or uplifting. Going into homes to discover the root of trouble that causes kids to miss school or not have proper clothing must send him home at night with knots in his shoulders and a heavy heart.
So there it is. Direct and visible impact of the GEC (global economic crisis, pronounced geck). It must be manifesting in other, more discreet and sneakish ways. In part I am extremely curious about them, and in part I dread knowing.