Canada

Slacks or sweats? Uniform controversy at Royal West Academy

Controversy is brewing at Royal West Academy in Montreal West, over the strict observance of its uniform policy.

The public high school is run much like a private school; students write entrance exams and wear uniforms.

However, when students returned to school in the fall, the school had a shortage of uniforms. So the policy was relaxed, and many students wore non-regulation clothing to school while uniform stocks were replenished.

But the relaxed uniform quickly got out of hand, with students turning up in colourful clothing that stood out against the more staid grey-and-white uniform.

“We don’t want kids coming in wearing green or purple or any other sweatshirt that doesn’t form part of the school uniform,” said David Stolow, chair of the Royal West Academy governing board.

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Read more: Coronavirus: Doctors, scientists sound alarm over poor ventilation in Montreal-area schools

This week, the school reaffirmed its school uniform policy. On days when students have gym, they are permitted to wear their regulation RWA sweatshirts and pants all day. But on days they don’t, they have to wear the school uniform, which consists of pants, shirts and sweaters, or skirts if girls prefer those to pants.

The problem, parents complain, is that teachers are opening windows to allow for ventilation, because the school has yet to purchase air filtration units, and that is leaving some classrooms frigid. Some parents say the standard school uniform isn’t warm enough, and kids should be allowed to wear gym clothing every day.

“I think it’s ridiculous. We don’t live in Hawaii, we live in Montreal,” said parent Susan Gaudreau. “It’s zero degrees right now. You have some kids in classrooms that are two degrees. They need to lighten up on the rules and focus on kids’ health.”

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In a statement, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) spokesman Mike Cohen said:

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“Due to COVID, the school’s uniform stock wasn’t complete at the start of the year. They had to make allowances because not everyone had a complete uniform. At their last Governing Board meeting, the uniform rules were clarified, as approved last spring. If a student is cold in class, they can add layers (sweatshirt, coat), but they must present themselves in class in full uniform.”

Read more: Quebec air purification company surprised government hasn’t come calling

The issue has exploded online, with many parents discussing the issue on school Facebook pages.

“My daughter has come home every day complaining that she is cold. She is freezing, she can barely hold a pencil,” Gaudreau said.

Others, though, believe the uniform is important.

“I think the parent body has to understand this is something they signed on for, they contracted it for themselves and their children,” said parent Mitchell White, the president of the RWA Foundation board.

White said that uniforms were important to add structure to their days. He added that teenagers seldom dressed properly in winter — girls could be seen walking outside in socks not wearing tights, and many kids often don’t wear hats or gloves.

“I think you have to [teach] your kids that there are certain rules, and the rules are put into society for a reason,” White said.

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The governing board says the uniform isn’t the problem, it’s the EMSB’s slow response to purchasing air purifiers.

“The decision can’t be made at the level of the school. The frustration is being expressed in terms of the fact that to date the EMSB has not taken concrete action,” said Stolow.

The EMSB maintains it’s waiting for a government directive before buying air filtration units.

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