DeBakey PTA Takes Over Uniform Sales; Students Cry Excuse Me But Foul!

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DeBakey High School for Health Professions (aligned with the Baylor College of Medicine) is one of the city's toughest schools to get into -- a 2007 report said for every 1,200 applicants, 250 are accepted.

Students there are hard-core dedicated in terms of studying, attendance and hard work. And they win a lot of awards and recognition.

So it's kind of hard to understand why there needed to be a crackdown on the school dress code there -- essentially dropping from five to three color choices (White, Navy and Royal Blue were retained, forest green and brick red got the boot), adding a mandatory patch and most importantly handing the uniform sales franchise over to the PTA.

Some of the students aren't reacting to it very favorably and have launched a petition drive and a website for comments. They say the uniforms cost too much and while they appreciate the aspect of the PTA using this as a fundraiser, they think the Parent Teacher Association could find a better way to go about it (one student termed it "heavyhanded" at a school where 55 percent of the students are on free or reduced price lunch.

Altogether, they are being a lot more polite about it than Hair Balls would ever be.

Under the new rules, the shirts as well as the jackets must carry the DeBakey patch on them, "which only the PTA has the right to distribute. This has allowed the PTA to monopolize the economy and charge extravagant prices for their product," rising senior Sahifah Ansari says.

A look at the DeBakey uniform website doesn't show hugely expensive clothes; polo shirts range from $14 to $18 and hoodies are $28, but several students say they were able to purchase the appropriate dress clothes much cheaper at Walmart and Aeropostale when the latter had sales.

DeBakey Principal Linda Lazenby was on an out-of-state camping vacation, but delivered this response by e-mail:

The new uniform was initiated by the PTA and discussed in several PTA meetings, student advisory meetings, and by the Shared Decision Making Committee. The parents and teachers voiced a concern about the past uniform code as being too varied and somewhat difficult to enforce. As far as the ability for our students to pay, there will be funds available to support our students in need. It should also be noted that the current uniform will be grandfathered until 2013. The old uniforms are fine as long as they have the DeBakey logo, which most students have. The new uniform code has generally been well received, especially on Friday jeans day. With students being able to wear jeans and a cub or spirit shirt, the uniform code actually allows for more diversity in what the students can wear. One of the new colors has been coined "DeBakey blue" and is the color of scrubs usually worn in hospitals.

Number one, students say, the Friday jeans day isn't as big a deal as the administration is making it out to be.

Number two, students say the sole student on the Shared Decision Making Committee was a senior who was out of there after this year and will never have to meet the new standards. And they say there was a lot of committee pressure on that student.

Number three, the students say that several of the families at the Title I school don't have the money to pay PTA dues and thus were kept out of the discussion.

And before anyone wants to label these kids pointy-headed commie radicals, a lot of their argument has to do with the American Free Enterprise System.

"The new DeBakey Uniform policy restricts what colors students can wear. I agree with the school that there should be a uniform policy, because wearing anything to school can be distracting. However, this new policy not only restricts our choices of uniforms, but only the PTA is allowed to distribute the new DeBakey Logo, therefore there is no competitive pricing. The PTA basically has a monopoly in selling the new DeBakey uniforms and they can price them unfairly," says rising senior Linda Asiamah.

And 2009 DeBakey graduate Leo Qin points out: "Through Baylor College of Medicine, the PTA effectively owns the rights to the logos that will be used on the clothing. The PTA has chosen to be the sole distributor of merchandise featuring the logo, leaving no room for competition at other price points."

And: "The PTA, because it does not purchase stock, but rather orders shirts individually, pays an unreasonable amount per item and that charge is passed onto the student."

Perhaps his most damning point: "There is no guarantee of quality and value for PTA-sold merchandise."

Another student, rising senior Eric Kao, asks why the PTA couldn't just "sell DeBakey logo patches for students to iron on to their polos or require students to wear strictly defined colors such as solely white or navy blue so that there would be no discrepancy over the permissible color. In addition, the PTA could fundraise using other methods such as a carwash instead of forcefully seizing profits off of low-income students and their families."

He goes on to say: "It simply defies logic to require students to purchase expensive, low-quality polos when the polos can be purchased for a much economical price through other vendors or commercial stores. In the current state of our economy, many families do not have the capability to spend excessively; most students wear their middle school uniforms or polos that they wore in previous years but now that this new uniform policy is being enforced, families will have to dig deeper into their pockets just to accommodate these requirements. Upcoming seniors, in particular, will suffer the most--they will be required to purchase several costly polos that they will only wear for the short duration of ten months. "

The students all say they hope a compromise can be worked out.

"We're trying to focus on a solution," Ansari says." The purpose of a uniform shouldn't be to try to get more kids into detention. If you can find a navy shirt elsewhere it shouldn't matter that it doesn't have a DeBakey logo on it. Maybe the school could make exceptions for low income families."

"We're not against the PTA making money," Ansari says.

It seems these kids have embraced their classes in the American system of government, economics and debate.

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