BUCKTOWN — Arguing that "dictating what kids can wear is not following the Montessori way," two students at a Bucktown elementary school presented their cases for abolishing their school's uniform policy and enacting a dress code instead.
Eli Artemakis, a sixth-grade student at Drummond Montessori School, 1845 W. Cortland St., stood before the nine members of the Bucktown school's Local School Council Monday to present a petition signed by 220 students, parents and teachers in favor of abolishing the uniforms.
Students at Drummond are required to wear a white- or blue-collared shirt and dark blue pants, but Eli told the LSC he'd like to work with it to "draw up a dress code that promotes the Montessori principle of student responsibility."
The petition preceded an impassioned speech by Eli about why he believes uniforms are unnecessary, including the fact gang issues are "low to nonexistent," according to a call he placed to the Chicago Police Department.
Eli assured the LSC that if a dress code were enacted instead of uniforms, students at Drummond would "not judge each other by what they wear" because "Drummond kids do not care what kind of clothes a kid wears."
Joining Eli was Cassidy Goldman, a fifth-grader whose father, Jonathan Goldman, is the school's LSC's chairman.
Eli and Cassidy said they made phone calls to the Top 10 CPS elementary schools and found out that they do not have a uniform policy, nor do either of Drummond's "sister" Montessori schools, Oscar Mayer and Suder Elementary.
Cassidy read aloud from a letter by Drummond second-grade teacher Jonathan Zielinski, who supports "discarding our current uniform policy" because he believes his students are "looking to create an identify for themselves."
Zielinski said he was not aware of any Montessori schools that had a uniform and believed "If we follow the logic of Montessori and the trend of what we see our students and teachers doing at the school, it's just a matter of time before we move toward a no-uniform policy anyway."
Montessori programs center curriculum on the student, and whether or not a uniform policy is antithetical to "the Montessori way" ignited strong feelings among parents who engaged in a spirited discussion.
One parent read a comment from a blog post, "School Uniforms in CPS: Love 'em or Hate 'em." The majority of the teachers in the room appeared to support the uniform policy.
Pre-K and kindergarten teacher Linda Zehren challenged her colleague Zielinski's statements regarding Montessori schools and uniforms.
"Most Montessori schools in Italy do have dress codes that are very strict and many of the preparatory schools in Chicago have uniforms," Zehren said.
She added: "As a teacher, it is easier for me to teach when children are not comparing each other's clothes."
Responding to a parent who felt wardrobe choices should be part of the Montessori philosophy of empowering students to "make decisions and take responsibility for themselves," parent and LSC member Melissa Sterne said she felt clothing should be "more of a parent decision than a kid decision."
"We're the parents; we buy the kids' clothing. Personally, I am not in favor [of abolishing the uniform]," Sterne said.
Hector Hernandez, a teacher's assistant and member of the LSC, said students needed to learn the lesson that, "Life is always going to give you constraints, and people need to learn how to live within those."
Hernandez said he saw students being creative while wearing uniforms and cited colorful socks and unique shoelaces as examples.
While CPS gives LSCs the authority to make decisions on uniform policy or dress codes, according to CPS spokeswoman Keiana Barrett, several members of the LSC said they did not want to make any decisions about uniforms or dress codes without input from a permanent principal.
In the wake of longtime principal Mark Neidlinger's resignation in August, Drummond's 13-member principal search committee plans to begin reviewing candidate applications Monday.
The deadline is Friday for receipt of applications, and, as of Monday, only seven applications have come in through the CPS Principal Talent Office, including one internal candidate from Drummond who resigned from the committee due to a conflict of interest, Goldman said.
According to a CPS career opportunity page updated Oct. 23, Drummond is one of two CPS schools that does not have a principal, joining Ogden International School of Chicago, whose principal and vice principal were abruptly reassigned in July.
Though Goldman said Drummond would like to have a new principal in place by the end of January, he stressed that it is "a goal, not a deadline."
Drummond Montessori School's LSC generally meets at 6 p.m. on the last Monday of the month at the school, 1825 W. Cortland St. in Bucktown. For more information, visit www.drummondschool.org