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As School Board Votes on Uniform Policy, a Reality Check From the Trenches

| January 16, 2012

The clothes don't make the mark.

On Tuesday, the Flagler County School Board is scheduled to take an up-or-down vote on whether to institute a uniform policy in all traditional public schools beginning next school-year. The board is likely to adopt the policy, with at least three board members favoring the move. Earlier this month Jo Ann Nahirny, a teacher at Matanzas High School, sent the following letter to every school board member.

By Jo Ann C. Nahirny

On Friday, September 16, 2011, at about 9 a.m., I sat at my desk in Room 5239 at Matanzas High School,  grading essays,  while  my 21 English 3 Honors students  worked assiduously on their   vocabulary quizzes.  A sudden, loud thud against the back wall of the classroom interrupted everyone’s concentration, followed by a tumultuous commotion in the adjacent room. I ran out the door to determine the cause of the ruckus, only to discover a violent brawl next door.

Jo Ann Nahirni (© FlaglerLive)

Jo Ann Nahirny (© FlaglerLive)

Looking through the window of the closed door momentarily, I observed a chair hit the wall, the hand  of one of the combatants come in contact with the teacher’s face, and chaos ensue as  other students clambered out the door in fear, to get out of harm’s way. Too terrified to intervene, I scrambled back to my room, pushed the “emergency” button and furiously dialed the front desk while simultaneously barking orders to my own students to run and get help from other teachers down the hall.

Thanks in large part to male colleagues who arrived on the scene within seconds, order was restored and the two fighters were separated before any administrator or SRD even arrived on the scene. When the dust settled and punishments meted out (minimal six-day suspensions for each boy), we learned the fight had started with innocent joking that had somehow escalated to insults, and ultimately, blows.

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Several days earlier, another fight had occurred at Matanzas, this one so serious that it resulted in injuries to an SRD and an MHS school security guard, and even garnered publicity on television newscasts from Jacksonville to Daytona. The instigator was arrested and is awaiting trial. The cause of this altercation?  A young man grew angry when he observed another male talking to “his girl” so he hit him—then fought back when adults tried to prevent him from inflicting further injury on his victim.

These are not the only fights that have happened at Matanzas, and doubtless there will be more. But at no time have I ever heard of a fight at any school I have ever worked at (in the past 14 years) that was caused by the clothing someone was or was not wearing. The vast majority of school brawls occur because of relationship or dating issues or “he said-she said” nonsense. Ask the Dean of Students at any high school or middle school in this area and they will tell you the same thing.  Contrary to the popular saying, clothes don’t make the man (or the woman, or the student, for that matter), and nobody fights over what others wear, either.

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So why is the Flagler County School Board expending so much time and energy on “the uniform issue” claiming it will reduce school violence? If you really wanted to do that, I invite you to instead crack down on the truly offensive things kids wear that cause problems — like blatantly racist Confederate shirts and belt buckles, and rosary beads whose colors are obvious gang symbol proclamations, masquerading as devotional  prayer beads.  Lest you actually believe these students are so piously exercising their freedom of religion, they most definitely are not. My father spent 33 years as a highly decorated police officer in the inner-city of Newark, N.J.  Though now retired, he still remains active in law enforcement activities and seminars. He and other enforcement officers nationwide have  nearly all recognized the statement of gang membership so clearly proclaimed by innocent-enough looking rosaries disguised as jewelry around the necks of non-Catholic kids who couldn’t recite the Hail Mary prayer  if you asked them—much to the dismay of  practicing Catholics like me, who use rosary beads for their intended purpose every morning , as I do,  praying during my 42-mile commute to Matanzas High School.

While dressing up kids alike may make them look nicer, appearances are truly deceptive. Hitler’s Youth wore crisp uniforms, as do all the school children currently being indoctrinated to assume their roles in  Castro’s communist party in  Cuba,  even until today. Nazis wore glistening uniforms and sported buzz cuts. Very respectable looking young men they were indeed –until you delve below the surface and recognize the deeds performed by those who sported such attire. But didn’t they look nice, though?

Why is the School Board concerned so much about appearance? (As an educator, substance is what matters to me most!)  You can dress anyone up in a uniform, but it isn’t going to change anything.  No child or teen is going to magically say, “Wow, let me start studying now since I wear a uniform.”

My son wore sweat pants and tee shirts to Matanzas High School every day—and graduated fifth in his class  of 350 in 2011,  having earned an Associate’s degree at age 16, with scholarship offers from multiple universities.  The colleges courting him didn’t care what he wore.  And none of his classmates ever taunted him about his choice of clothing, either, just as what his peers wore didn’t matter to him in the least, either.  At Stetson these days he attends class in the same athletic wear he preferred in high school,  yet maintains a  perfect 4.0 GPA. His best friend, meanwhile, who prefers a much more formal look is struggling to keep a 2.0 average. My daughter, now 21, wore ripped jeans to Matanzas  (that were much too raggedy for my personal taste) but since she studied and graduated from high school in the top 10% of her class, her choice of clothes took a back seat. I never made it an issue.  I’m glad I didn’t, for  I’m so proud  now when I see her dressed so professionally in business suits when she goes to her internship assignments at elementary schools throughout  Volusia  (she’s an elementary education major). She still wears ripped jeans to class occasionally, but earns A’s and B’s regardless!  As a mother and teacher, I “picked my battles” and I’m asking you to do the same.

Some of the very best-dressed students in my classes also happen to be the worst academic performers, and some of the students who come to class in bleach-stained shirts and visibly worn clothing are earning SAT scores higher than 85% of students nationwide. My lowest achieving student has obviously spent more on clothes, manicures, pedicures and salon treatments  in one semester  than I’ve spent in my 50 years of life. But it hasn’t helped her become a better reader or pass the FCAT, nor has a nice wardrobe improved her mediocre grades! Some of my high achievers come in tee shirts, jeans, sweat pants and whatever they happen to pull on when they have to roll out of bed at an ungodly hour to run out to get to a school bus stop before the sun even rises –but they are the ones who will be garnering multiple scholarship offers within the next year or so.

As a teacher, I’m already burdened with so much responsibility. As it is, before I can even begin to teach the day’s lesson, I have to check every period to be sure nobody has arrived late, nobody has come in without an I.D. card around their neck, no one’s texting, no one’s sleeping, etc. I already monitor for clothing that “exposes” too much.  Writing referrals isn’t my favorite thing to do, because I’m supposed to be TEACHING. The more time I have to waste on enforcement of school policies (and there are dozens already!), the less time I have to help students learn the skills they need to succeed in college and the world of work. If you’re asking me to spend even two  short minutes each period every day checking to see if kids are wearing a uniform, that’s 360 minutes per year, or six hours less per period I will spend teaching each year.

Is wasting that much time really worth it? Hitler obviously thought so, and Castro still does. Do you?

Very truly yours,

Jo Ann C. Nahirny

Jo Ann C. Nahirny, a 1985 graduate of Columbia University and a National Board Certified Teacher, teaches English at Matanzas High School in Palm Coast. Reach her by email here. Read her previous column for FlaglerLive here.

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41 Responses for “As School Board Votes on Uniform Policy, a Reality Check From the Trenches”

  1. Mitzi Gee says:

    Amazing! Couldn’t agree more!

  2. eileen says:

    GREAT! Thank you !

  3. Ernie Toth via Facebook says:

    Hitler Youth love it. You have hit the nail on it’s head.Poor people wear what they have, rich people wear what they want. Violence isn’t from what students wear, what an asshole way of thinking! Violence has progressed accordinally as society has progressed. Look at the entertainment we push. Just sayin get some common sense

  4. Mellisa McGurren Donahue via Facebook says:

    So well written. I hope they have an “opt- out” clause and parents get to decide still. So glad we have moved out of state so my teens can wear what they want.

  5. Cathy Clayton via Facebook says:

    Well said

  6. Ernie Toth via Facebook says:

    School is a tool we use to educate, not a way to determine if my pencil belongs to a gang, or if the mud mark everyday onthe left side of my sneaker everyday means a thing. to smart for common sense

  7. Angela Smith via Facebook says:

    Bravo, Ms. Nahirny!

  8. MatanzasSpeaks says:

    I think this whole ‘uniform controversy’ is such a waste of time.
    Who was the idiot who said that a reason kids fight is the about the clothes they wear? As a MHS student of course I am going to say no to uniforms. But not because I think they’re hideous or whatever. I like to get dolled up in the morning on some days and throw on some sweats on others. There are obviously going to be some students that will rebel on this whole decision. Girls will hike up their skirts, boys will untuck their shirts, and still wear rosaries under their or over their shirts, not because it is gang related, but because its their way of expressing their religion or beliefs. Adults think all of us other kids are offended by that, but we actually couldn’t care less. Honestly, school is boring. You know that, I know that. But waking up and throwing on a cute pair of jeans for girls, or a sick pair of shoes for guys is almost what gets us through the day. Yes, school should be focused on education and starting your life. But that shouldn’t keep us from having the right to express ourselves. We are a public school system. Let’s say no to uniforms.

  9. w.ryan says:

    The actions of this school board over this issue shows blatant disregard toward the people that voted them into office.what we have said at town meetings and everywhere else has not made them succumb to our wishes.

  10. Gail says:

    Comparing the unifom policy to Hitler’s youth is not only ridiculous but offensive!

    • FirstaYearTeacher says:

      Offensive to who? The Nazis? The men who starved, murdered and burned so many innocent people across Europe? Think about that.

      • Gail says:

        It is offensive to compare such a horrible time to a stupid uniform policy. I think it is insensitive and as a Jewish person I take offense at such a trivial comparison.

        • FirstaYearTeacher says:

          Really? Wow, that is a little horrible that a Jewish woman has no idea about the history of the killing of her people by Nazis. There is really no reason to be offended. In fact, if you actually read the article, you might see that the example correlates perfectly. If you found offense to it, then your intelligence is lesser than a college graduate and you are unable to see past the word Nazi. It is a shame about that.

          • FirstaYearTeacher says:

            Another thing you would see if you had some intelligence at all is it is a literary device to create a point, but I suppose you didn’t sit through a language arts or journalism class in Columbia as Jo Ann Nahirny did. It is a bigger shame you can’t recognize that.

  11. Carol Cuyler says:

    So well said! Thank you Mrs. Nahirny!

    I have not met this teacher, but I hope my children have the chance to be in one of her classes!

  12. says:

    Doesn’t the school board have ANYTHING else more important to deal with?

  13. says:

    i think the school board is afraid to tackle more seriously issues. they tackle this nonsense and get it through and than they can say”look at what we accomplish during our tenure” this is not an accomplishment, this is a smoke screen to avoid the real serious issues.

  14. Justin says:

    Good job I bet your a really good teacher!!!

  15. JUST WONDERING says:


  16. Liana G says:

    Gov Scott, can you please speed up universal school vouichers so that parents who want school uniforms are given the choice of sending their students to schools that have school uniforms. Thank you.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Well said.

  18. liammmm says:

    Wow, could I love you anymore than I do right now? I LOVE YOU.

  19. kayla says:

    I am a Matanzas High school student and the fact that our school board members are considering uniforms when we obviously have more important issues to tackle is annoying. Our school books, are torn and worn down. Students are forced to tape the cover our their psychology book so it doesn’t fall off. yet, the only thing that they can make a big issue on is uniforms? Someone must have the priorities of education mixed up.

  20. ? says:

    only about the revenue…

  21. Robert says:

    I believe that the members of the school board have already cast their votes. The school board meeting will be something like a charade.

    There are some people who push chairs around the office all day, in order to try to convince others that they are working.

    • No whining zone says:

      I”m sorry. I must have missed all of the serious research done to definitively demonstrate that school uniforms are beneficial to academic study, behavior modification and sundry other valuable education goals. With all of the doctoral dissertations in education written in the last 50 years, why isn’t somebody presenting arguments verifying the importance of school uniforms. Isn’t this what educators and academic leaders do? Isn’t it fundamental to decision making that we validate our argument in order to persuade those unable to follow our opinions? To use a common colloquialism, ” Show me the money!” Is the problem that the objective studies positing the efficacy of school uniforms simply do not exist?

  22. Tuesday says:

    It’s tonight everyone get up and let go tell the board what we really want

  23. Catherine Nahirny says:

    I not only approve of my mother’s article, but I support it completely. These students at Matanzas are close to be considered adults or already adults. Some will be going to college (or in my case when I was a senior, already in college), where in this case they will be in charge of their own wardrobe and do not have an actual set of clothing guidelines. Uniforms are really a waste of time for this county. There are more important issues to be concerned with instead of ‘looking nice’ or seeming ‘more intelligent’ by obtaining uniforms. This reminds me of the Washington Post article I read this morning called “Why Are Smart People Unusually Ugly?,” talking about our society and the demented view that comes with it, insisting that those who look better seem to achieve more scholastically. Really, I feel this is all this county is trying to accomplish. Again, I will spell it out: THIS IS A WASTE OF TIME. No matter how your students look, that will not boost test scores, it will not make your football team win more games and it certainly won’t boost school morale (if anything, it will kill it much more).

  24. Vanessa says:

    So well said!!!! The school board have other issues that needs to be addressed!!!!!

  25. Nancy N says:

    Standing ovation from this BTES parent!

  26. Flagler teach says:

    Instead of concentrating on school uniforms I wish our school board would concentrate more on Public Relations for Public Education! The state legislation has mandated what teachers do in the classroom for many years now and still have the audacity to run on education reform. The legislatures mess up education yet still continue to manage it. Then, they spin their poor decisions to make it look like incompetent teachers or teacher’s unions are to blame. Who is going to step up and announce to the public that many of the charter schools our governor is fighting to fund are F rated schools? Why would the governor want to send your kids to failing schools if he cares so much about their education? MONEY, people, MONEY. The more money he can move from the state budget to the private sector the happier he will be. EVEN if those schools do not make the gains that traditional public schools make.
    Times have changed and our school board needs to change. Showing up to a few meetings a year for a full time salary, benefits, and retirement is no longer effective. Our board needs to focus on REAL education issues and step up and defend public education. If our own school board won’t do that, then who will?

  27. Student says:

    School teacher, Jo Ann Nahirny, is completely correct. She speaks for almost every teacher in MHS when she says that uniforms are NOT needed. As an all AP and Honors student I can say that almost half of my class consists of students wearing sweat pants and yoga pants with a Tee shirt. I honestly enjoy wearing polo’s and button downs but, I hate wearing the same thing as someone else. I like to consider myself as an individual and not a number. I hope that the point gets across to the board members that we do NOT need uniforms! Even if we do end up having to wear uniforms it will probably change just like how the schedule changes every year.

  28. kathy says:

    Couldnt have said it better- kudos to Ms. Nahirny! shame our school board voted 3-2 for uniforms. I know 3 school board members i will not be voting for when they are up for re-election next time

  29. Concerned Parent says:

    This is a great article! I enjoyed reading!!! Hopefully, people will listen to our educators.

  30. Lori Eichinger says:

    My daughter graduated from FPC and wore jeans and a tee shirt everyday. She did wonderfully in school, received the 100 percent Bright futures scholarship and put herself through UCF. My son recently graduated from MHS with Ms. Nahirny’s son and he wore shorts and a collared shirt everyday and guess what, he also received a Bright Furtures scholarship and also did well in school. My children knew from the start what was expected of them when they attended school. It starts in the home and I do not think uniforms will make a difference. If the kids want to fight they will fight regardless of what they are wearing.

  31. HayThere says:

    I like the idea of uniforms. It will save time and help teachers focus on their jobs since less time will be devoted to deciding what is appropriate. The rules will be consistent and then all the teaches can be on the same page. For all those kids and adults that say uniforms take away a student’s ability to express their individuality, think about this. Individuality should not be expressed by what you wear. That is SUPERFICIAL and SHALLOW. Let your mind and your heart express who you are. Show us who you are by the good you do in the world not by your style choices. Express who you are by the books that you read, the poetry you love, the music that moves your soul, or the charities you devote your time and talent too. Who and what you love is more important than what you wear! Show us who you are by being the best you can be. You are not your clothes, hair, make-up, or shoes. If all you have are those things then you will probably find life empty and meaningless. If you you don’t care about them, then putting on a uniform won’t change who you are or make you any less of who you are. It is just one less unimportant decision you will have to make each day. Uniforms might actually force kids to really try and get to know someone first because they can’t make judgments based on what clothing someone may wear. The worst part about uniforms is having enough of them around so that you don’t have to do laundry every other day. I wore uniforms for years and they inspire community and unity in a school. I felt like I was a part of something important where learning was a priority, not what jeans I had on. It was not about conforming. Conforming is being forced to share beliefs and values. No one is suggesting we do that. Bottom line…Uniforms are not bad and no one can say that uniforms distract from learning. I can say with all certainty that if a a pretty girl gets up to recite her favorite poem in English class my teenage boy, who attends Matanzas, will have a much easier time focusing on her mind and the prose that touches her heart if he’s not staring at her cleavage or her short skirt. Just sayin..

  32. palmcoaster says:

    @Matanzas speaks.You got that right with, “who was the idiot”…School Board Fischer the egomaniac along with Dickinson that manage to drag Conklin along for the vote. That man Fischer, the same one associated to the cover up for his wife hit and run, that killed our good resident Ms.Francois Pequeur and she goes free and unpunished so far. So what can you expect for fairness and justice? No matter what these dudes say or do, you stay the course and press on and you will win. Also very important remember whom to vote for when next Board elections come around.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Confederate flag, a “blatantly racist” symbol? Only if you choose to be willfully ignorant of history.

    -All thirteen original states which seceded from England in 1776, and which formed the United States of America, from Maine (a part of Massachusetts at that time) to Georgia, owned slaves. Was the First American Revolution fought over slavery? If not, then neither was the Second American Revolution fought over slavery when the Southern states withdrew from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.

    -Is the Fourth of July a racist holiday because all thirteen original colonies had slaves? If not, then neither are Confederate holidays.

    -Is the U.S. flag a racist flag because all thirteen original states had slaves? If not, then neither is the Confederate battle flag a racist flag. Or, do you advocate taking down the U.S. flag as well? If you do, then we need to take down nearly every national flag in the world, starting with the flag of Nigeria in Africa.

    -Slaves on both sides: during the War Between the States, many in the North also had slaves, but refused to free their slaves until after the war. People in Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia, and even Washington, D.C., owned slaves; these states never seceded and were under the control of the United States throughout the course of the entire war. However, they were not required to free their slaves by the U.S. government.

    -The U.S. Congress in 1862 even refused to pass a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, when the only Senators and Representatives in Congress were from the North (all Southerners had left Congress to form their own nation). How could the North be fighting the war to free Southern slaves, when they would not free their own, such as Ulysses S. Grant’s personal slave, or Abraham Lincoln’s father-in-law’s slaves? Lincoln and the U.S. Congress even offered to pass a constitutional amendment for the South, guaranteeing permanent slavery forever in the slave states, if only the Southern states would return to the Union. The South refused the offer.

    -Northern slaves were even exempt from Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Furthermore, captured Southern slaves on the Mississippi River were forced to work on the plantations as slaves for the United States Army, growing cotton for Northern factories, rather than being set free. Also during the war, just as many Union soldiers owned slaves as Confederate soldiers. Is the U.S. flag a symbol of slavery because the North owned slaves during the war? If not, then neither is the Confederate battle flag a symbol of slavery. How could the war have been fought over slavery when both sides had slaves?

    -The War Between the States (this is what the U.S. Congress declared it to be, it wasn’t a civil war) was fought over local self-government by the South, versus centralist government by the North; the centralist government won and the local self-government lost. The Confederate battle flag is a symbol of the right of local people and the states to govern themselves and is flown in memory and honor of Confederate veterans who gave their lives for less government, less taxes, and Southern independence.

    Just trying to correct what I find to be a glaring misnomer in the article. According to your own comment policy, comments which correct factual errors and provoke debate are the types of comments that you prefer. Censoring my thoughtful and informative comment again without cause or explanation would be a tacit admission that I am right. Truth does not fear inquiry.

  34. Anonymouss says:

    The south refused to give up slavery, it was a huge part of the war. The Southern Baptist Church did not apologize for slavery and its stance on it until the 90’s. That’s why it has come to represent a blatantly racist, ignorant, and intolerant symbol. Your example of the early colonies owning slaves is moot considering most of them worked to abolish it almost right away, the southern states did not.

  35. w.ryan says:

    What did he read at all? Trying to incite a dialog about flags? We’re a Democracy! Fly your flag. Everyone don’t have to like it. Don’t explain.

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