School Board Candidates’ Night Forum Spurs Talk Of School Uniforms

2015 candidates' night1

Board of Education contenders Margaret Steele, Richard Seamon, Laurie Merris and Agnes Kulu-Banye, left to right, at the Oct. 26 candidates’ night at Franklin Middle School.

School uniforms and banning the student use of electronics in classrooms were two of the topics touched upon Oct. 26 in a candidates’ forum with the four Board of Education contenders.

The forum was sponsored by the Franklin Township PTO/PTSO Presidents’ Council and held at Franklin Middle School.

There are three, 3-year school board seats up for grabs. Contending for them are incumbents Richard Seamon and Margaret Steele, as well as Laurie Merris and Agnes Kulu-Banye.

The candidates were first asked questions by members of the Presidents’ Council – John Felix, council president; council co-president Linda Darby; Eve Kavaliauskas, council treasurer and Kelly Zehr, council recording secretary – then by members of the audience.

Following are some of the topics that were raised, and candidates’ views on them:

School Uniforms

Seamon, who is seeking his fourth, non-consecutive term, said the issue of uniforms elicited strong response from parents when it was raised in the early 2000s.

“People wanted their child to have some kind of individualism,” he said.

The district’s first dress code came from that meeting, he said.

A uniform policy, Seamon said, could prove to be an economic issue for some families who may not be able to afford buying extra clothes for their children.

Steele said a uniform policy would have to have strong public support for the board to institute it.

“I honestly think it has to become a bigger issue before we take time to debate it,” she said.

Merris said she would be “very open” to the idea, although, she said, she would like to see something that’s closer to a uniform dress policy.

“Like, khaki pants and a polo shirt,” she said. “A more simple solution might be less expensive.”

Kulu-Banye, a native of Sierra Leone, said students in her country wear uniforms, “and they are immaculate.”

“Here, parents have the right to tell children what to wear,” she said.

Technology in Classrooms

The candidates agreed that computers are necessary in classrooms, but thought that cell phones should be prohibited.

“The phones should be in their pockets or in their lockers,” Merris said. “The students have to learn discipline” in their use.

Seamon said students need their phones in cases of emergencies, but that they should be put away during class.

World Language and Music In Elementary Schools

All of the candidates said they favored returning the teaching of Spanish and band and chorus in the district’s K-4 schools.

“Those types of programs are good for the children” Steele said.

The candidates agreed, though, that the district budget would determine whether the programs could be reinstated.

The candidates also agreed that the schools Superintendent is not the only person in the district who should be held accountable for failing schools, that last year’s $85 million building referendum will bring positive results to the district, especially in bridging the so-called “success gap” between the highest- and lowest-achieving students, and that there are processes in place to ensure that the referendum money is spent wisely.

Voters go to the polls on Nov. 3 to elect the school board candidates, as well as to cast their ballots in local, county and state-wide races.

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