Principal Knocks Parents Who Shun School Uniforms For Religious Beliefs

By James Fanelli and Gustavo Solis  on January 16, 2014 6:51am

 Lorenzo Chambers, the principal of P.S. 279 in Canarsie, sent a letter home to parents, shaming those who used religion as an excuse for not dressing their kids in the school's uniform.
Lorenzo Chambers, the principal of P.S. 279 in Canarsie, sent a letter home to parents, shaming those who used religion as an excuse for not dressing their kids in the school's uniform.
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Facebook/Lorenzo Chambers

CANARSIE — He's a true believer — in dress codes.

A Brooklyn principal sent a letter to his students' parents last month, chastising those who claimed they didn't want their kids wearing the school's uniform because it conflicted with their religious beliefs.

In his Dec. 2 letter, P.S. 279 principal Lorenzo Chambers praised parents whose students abided by the uniform policy, but singled out those who opted out of the dress code, accusing them of acting in bad faith. 

"What is alarming is that some of you are opting out of having your children wear the uniforms by siting [sic] religious reasons when clearly there are no such reasons," the principal wrote.

"I say this because some of your children wore their uniforms last year and not this year."

Chambers said the parents who didn't abide by the policy did a "disservice" to their children and the school community. 

"School is about learning, not about what we look like and asserting one's individuality through what he/she wears," he wrote.

"Children should assert their individuality by who they are as a person — how hard they work or how kind they are to their peers or how respectful they are to adults."

Under city Department of Education rules, schools have a right to adopt a mandatory uniform policy for students, though parents can obtain a dress-code exemption for their kids — including for religious reasons.

However, if parents don't apply for the exemption within 30 days of receiving the notice of the uniform requirement, then school administrators have the right to discipline the students, according to DOE rules.

Students at the Canarsie elementary school are required to wear blue khaki pants and a polo shirt, with the color varying by grade.

A mom whose two kids started at the school this year complained on Wednesday that the uniforms were expensive. She said she needed a month to scrounge up money to buy the outfit, but while she saved, her kids were forced to borrow clothes from the school.

"If you go to school without the uniform, they make you change and put one on," said the parent, who talked on the condition her name wasn't published. "It's not good sometimes if you don't have enough money. It's $15 for pants and $7 for a shirt. It adds up."

Other parents welcomed the dress code, saying it brought the students closer together.

"It's just a uniform," said Sharon Noel, whose daughter is a fourth grader at P.S. 279. "It creates unity, the focus is on learning. Nobody says, 'You're better than me' because they don't have designer clothes on."

Flora Remy, who was picking up her two grandchildren on Wednesday, said that the dress code didn't bar Muslim students from wearing religious attire over the uniform.

"The school is not racist or anything," Remy said.

Chambers declined to comment and directed calls to the city's Department of Education, which also declined to comment.

A Dartmouth College graduate who briefly played running back for the New York Giants, Chambers has been a principal for six years and an educator for 15 years.

His school has received a "C" ranking on its progress reports for the past three years. The mediocre scores didn't stop Chambers from self-publishing a book in 2013 called "The Principal: School Leadership in Real Time," which gives his advice on scenarios that educators face in the classroom.  

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