By Loreth Beswetherick
A second survey on school uniforms at Myrtle Philip elementary has fallen 49 votes short of the 216 required to introduce the uniform gear.
But, the uniform committee is not giving up.
Maureen Donovan, who is spearheading the drive, said the committee now plans to call all the families who did not fill in the questionnaire to see if they can get the 49 votes they need.
The debate over uniforms is, however, beginning to foster the kind of divisiveness homogenous dress is theoretically supposed to prevent. "If the parents are taking sides, the kid’s won’t be far behind," said father and Parent Advisory Council treasurer, Gary Pringle.
There are 384 families at the school, including the francophone students. When the votes were counted last Friday, 167 indicated they were in favour of uniforms, 135 said no, nine were undecided and 73 families did not respond.
This is the second uniform survey at Myrtle Philip. The uniform committee got the go-ahead from the Parent Advisory Council for their first survey in November last year. The PAC stipulated a 75 per cent response rate was needed and, of those families who responded, 75 per cent must be in favour before they would consider implementing a voluntary uniform policy. There was an 85.7 per cent response rate to the first survey in December, with 67.6 per cent voting yes and 32.4 per cent voting no. The uniform group felt, even though they did not get the 75 per cent yes vote, the results in fact indicated the majority of parents at the school were in favour.
They again approached the PAC and asked for the nod to hold a fashion show to better educate parents and students and then conducted a second survey. The PAC, which has made it clear it is not behind the drive to implement uniforms, okayed the show and a second survey.
Survey forms were sent out for the second time March 3 but before the votes were counted Friday, March 10, the uniform committee approached the PAC executive to ask that they accept 216 yes votes as the bottom line required to implement a school uniform policy at Myrtle Philip. The first survey had generated 239 votes in favour.
The PAC executive was 75 per cent opposed to accepting the new bottom line.
But, at an animated PAC meeting last week, a pro-uniform faction attended and made a motion to accept the 216 yes votes as the minimum number required to implement a uniform policy. The group then voted in favour of the motion. They also raised — and voted in favour of — a motion that the uniform policy be implemented for a minimum period of four years should the survey prove successful.
However, when the results were tallied up the following morning, the second survey fell short of the new target showing fewer yes votes and more no votes than the first survey. While the uniform committee now wants to phone parents who did not respond, the PAC is feeling enough is enough.
The uniform committee on the other hand, feels it perhaps set its target too high. Most other schools that have opted for a uniform policy, said Donovan, went with a mere 51 per cent majority in favour. As pro-uniform father Chris Vernon-Jarvis said at the last PAC meeting: "If we can break a country apart with 50 plus one, why can’t we just say the majority said yes? Someone is going to be unhappy either way."
The uniform committee believes uniforms will help alleviate behavioural problems at school, reduce competition among fashion-conscious kids and foster a higher standard of neatness, self discipline and a sense of responsibility.
"I know lots of kids who do have trouble being accepted," said Donovan. "Some of the stuff that goes on in Grade 3 and Grade 4 with these little girls being nasty to each other is just awful."
Other pro-uniform parents who attended the last PAC meeting indicated behaviour at Myrtle Philip was "appalling."
Parents opposed to the move say they are not aware of any problems at Myrtle Philip either personally or through the teachers and school administration.
"My feeling is we are creating exactly the kind of divisiveness this whole thing was supposed to get rid of," said Pringle.
He said the uniform debate isn’t helping with the school’s fight for more funding either. He said there is already a perception in the school district that Whistler parents are "just a bunch of fat cats whining about funding, and now, here we are trying to push uniforms through showing that families are prepared to spend $300 to $400 per child to outfit them... the perception has got to be that we are looking to create some kind of private school up here," said Pringle. "I know people down there (Squamish) already think we are whining for no reason. There we are saying funding is not fair yet all our families are prepared to fork out big bucks to outfit their kids in uniforms."
Donovan said the uniform committee can now either continue with their drive to reach their target or go back to the drawing board. Her youngest child will be leaving elementary school next year so she will personally have to reconsider where to devote her energy.
Several other parents behind the uniform initiative are the same names behind a push for a traditional school in Whistler. Donovan said those parents may now decide to focus solely on the traditional movement, which she said is gathering momentum.
A dress code and optional school logo wear have been presented by PAC members as alternatives to school uniforms but Donovan said logo wear could be more divisive in terms of the have’s and the have nots. She said many parents who voted against uniforms did so because the dress would not be mandatory and this could also divide kids into camps.
She said the committee steered clear of a move to make the policy mandatory because the group felt it did not have enough support from school staff and administration. "We don’t feel we have a huge amount of administrative support."
An "opt-in" uniform policy would also be a school-based decision and school board support would not be required.
Before canvassing the elementary school, the uniform committee had hoped to introduce a uniform policy at the high school. Survey response at Whistler Secondary was, however, poor and a fashion show staged at a school dance did not elicit a positive response from high school students. The committee felt it had a better chance introducing the uniform concept at the elementary school level.