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Principal Who Installed Dress Code for Teachers Now Has One for Students

By Serena Solomon | March 26, 2012 8:35am
A likeness of uniforms for P.S. 64 are on display in the schools foyer. The uniform will consist of a white shirt, grey pant or skirt, a maroon sweater and a maroon tie or bow
A likeness of uniforms for P.S. 64 are on display in the schools foyer. The uniform will consist of a white shirt, grey pant or skirt, a maroon sweater and a maroon tie or bow
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

MANHATTAN — After installing a controversial dress code for his teachers last year, the principal of an East Village elementary school is now turning an eye to his students.

P.S. 64 Principal Marlon Hosang, who banned teachers from wearing flip-flops, gym clothes and other sloppy clothing, is among the growing number of principals citywide who are installing a compulsory uniform policy.

"We continue to try to transform the culture of the school," said Hosang, whose uniform plan is slated to take effect in fall 2012 and who has the support of the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

"It will give our students a sense of pride in their school when everyone is wearing the uniform," added Hosang, who wears a suit and tie to school each day.

Joe Levy, from Cookies Kids, said the uniform business in New York is a growing one.
Joe Levy, from Cookies Kids, said the uniform business in New York is a growing one.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

The number of schools with a mandatory uniform policy is on the rise citywide, sparked in part by the charter school movement, according to principals, uniform stores and those familiar with the public education system. 

"I have definitely seen a tremendous growth in public and charter schools adopting uniform policies," said Joe Levy, the manager at Cookies Kids, a store that carries uniforms for up to 1,400 private, public and charter schools and daycare centers in the city.

"I see very few abandoning the uniform policy."

Levy estimates his list of participating schools and daycare centers has grown by 100 per year for the past three years.

This year, Levy added P.S. 64 and Murry Bergtraum High School on the Lower East Side, he said.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said the city does not keep a comprehensive list of schools that have a uniform policy. The decision to adopt uniforms is up to the principal, he said.

But 12 of the 17 middle schools in School District Four, which encompasses East Harlem and the Upper East Side, have a uniform, according to the district's directory.

"Most of our schools do have a uniform policy," said Nancy Pereira, a district family advocate for District 4.

She added that the trend shows no sign of stopping, as all three of the schools that opened in the past five years in the district adopted a uniform policy — M.S. 372's Esperanza Preparatory Academy, M.S. 381's Global Neighborhood Secondary School and M.S. 375's Mosaic Preparatory Academy.

Jacqueline Wayans, assignment editor at Inside Schools, a nonprofit website that provides independent information on New York City public schools has also seen a growing uniform trend.

"More and more schools are adopting a uniforms policy," Wayans said, adding that the level of uniform can vary from khakis and polo shirt to a shirt and tie.

Wayans partially attributes the trend to the boom in charter schools, the majority of which have a uniform policy.

In addition, she said, when there are numerous schools housed within one building, principals can use uniforms as a way to identify their students from those who attend other schools.

Charles DeBerry, principal of P.S. 76 in Harlem, said he adopted a uniform policy for his students in 2003 because the daily ritual of getting dressed each morning helps prepare students for a day of learning.

"It provides a feeling of being in school, of being prepared and ready for work," said DeBerry, who worked through the summer to ensure his students were all in uniform on his first day at the helm of P.S 76.

"It means building habits that allow for learning... A uniform is one more part of the structure. It gets that simple," he added.

DeBerry said uniforms are particularly popular in lower-income areas.

Approximately 84 percent of students at P.S. 76 qualified for a free lunch in the 2010 - 2011 school year, meaning their family incomes were less than $29,000 for a family of four, according to the National School Lunch Program.

In School District Five, which contains much of northern Manhattan, 15 out of 16 middle schools have uniform policies, compared to one middle school out of more then 20 in Downtown's District Two.

Marlon Hosang wears a suit and tie to his job as principal at P.S. 64 everyday.
Marlon Hosang wears a suit and tie to his job as principal at P.S. 64 everyday.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

Bob Derrek, the manager at Lazarus uniform store in Harlem, said his store has seen a boom in uniform use in recent years — sales jumped from 20 percent of his business to 60 percent.

"Previously we used to only sell to private and parochial schools," said Derrek.

About 90 percent of Lazarus' clients come from lower socio-economic areas, but Derrek said school uniforms can appeal to every school, regardless of income.

"It used to predominately be northern Manhattan and now it is trickling down into Midtown," Derrek said. 

Although P.S. 64 is situated in the rapidly-gentrifying East Village, about 75 percent of its students qualified for free lunches in the 2010-2011 school year. 

About two thirds of P.S. 64's PTA voted for uniforms last September, according to its president Alia Carpenter.

Two complete sets of the uniform — a burgundy shirt and navy blue pant or skirt — will cost parents about $65, according to Hosang.

"It is a lot cheaper and it represents the school," Clara Cespedes, the mother of first grader Amy Batista, said in Spanish.

Although the policy is yet to take effect at P.S. 64, Cespedes is already sending her child to school in uniform.

Cespedes said the uniform is more efficient and more economical than worrying about buying a new wardrobe for her daughter each year. Her daughter's uniform skirt, shirt and sweater cost $30, cheaper than an average outfit that costs about $45, she said.

Plus, Amy said she liked the outfit, spinning around in her new uniform skirt.

P.S. 64 third-grader Jose Gallardo said he liked his uniform because it saves his parents money.

His mother Leeann said his school uniform of shirt and pants cost approximately $21, much cheaper than a $90 price tag for one of Jose's favorite street outfits, like a Knicks jersey and pants.

"It used to take a long time to get ready because I couldn't decide what to wear," said Jose. "It [the uniform] is easier."

Hosang said students are allowed to wear their own shoes with the uniform.

This is the second attempt by the elementary school to adopt uniforms. Hosang said the school tried to implement them in 2003, but didn't crack down on students who didn't participate at that time, leaving it largely optional. 

This time, he said, the school will enforce the policy, unless the parents sign an opt-out form so their child can attend school in plain clothes.

"We are going to call home, put parents on notice, send home written notices," said Hosang.

If families have financial difficulties, Hosang also intends to start a foundation during the summer to assist with uniform purchases. 

Like everything in school, Hosang sees uniforms as another part of the learning curve. 

"There are some things I want our students to learn at this age," said Hosang. "Hopefully they will take this with them as they get older."