By Sharona Coutinho , CNN Written by
For anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock, New York City teachers and administrators are coming under fire for their decision to force children and teenagers, whose parents either haven’t paid their school bills or are homeless, to don school uniforms at the beginning of the school year.
After parents protested the decision to many seen in photos posted to Instagram and Facebook — one of which shows a young woman in a brown tartan-trimmed tutu she says is for her dog wearing a black hoodie and tracksuit bottoms, holding a briefcase and sporting a notebook — Governor Andrew Cuomo has stepped in, advocating a collective response from families, teachers and city officials.
“I thought it was my civic duty to step in and try to get teachers and parents to come together and to find a solution to this problem,” Cuomo told “Live with Kelly and Ryan” on Friday.
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Cuomo’s plea for help mirrors a similar one made by Democrat New York State Senator Marisol Alcantara, who, in July, penned a letter urging “anyone, including political leaders, who can stand in the boardroom to tell these middle-school teachers, school administrators and administrators to do what is right.”
She noted in the letter that for many people in her community, wearing uniforms “has become a routine experience, regardless of how tired they are.”
Bearing the scars of this battle
But parents are still upset and accusing the New York City Department of Education of lack of awareness, execution and compassion — seemingly an issue that took root over the summer, when the concept was first proposed as an effort to curb youth violence.
New York City schools have not made uniformity mandatory since 1996, when parents were urged to support a $1.6 billion overhaul. The idea was later abandoned, after strong backlash from parents who felt the cost of uniforms was an undue burden in today’s financial climate, and that not all students had the ability to pay for clothing.
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However, this year, the school system was struck by what critics say is the most lenient policy in the country, particularly in Central Harlem, which has the highest number of students homeless, and whose parents often struggle to pay rent due to low wages and substance abuse problems.
“To require uniformity on the first day of school, especially when the administration was unaware of the people who are not being provided for, rather than over-simplifying the issue — where are the kids and do they really need a uniform?” said David Sachar, the founder of the group Committee Encouraging Our Children through Exclusion, in an interview with CNN.
The group is a network of concerned parents who monitor its members’ symptoms, make decisions on their health, participate in medical and therapy visits, and attend their children’s class activities.
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The group is asking that anyone caring for a child under age 18 “be allowed to have at least one blanket and a pillow to sleep in,” and that children be “allowed to wear sweatpants or shorts and sneakers” in the summer.
While a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Education refused to directly address the topic, the school system put out a statement to CNN affiliate WNYC on Thursday, saying they did not expect the decision to be difficult to implement, but to “make sure there is a good reason” for every student to have a uniform.
“We’re aware that in certain areas in the city there are challenges for families and that parents can’t afford a uniform, and we’ve heard from many that these costs could be a burden on their families, and we’ve been working with them over the past week and working closely with them to make sure that schools are accommodating these parents,” the statement said.