Off With Uniforms, On With Badges?

WHEELING – The Ohio County Board of Education will consider a resolution requiring all school district employees to wear an identification badge on school properties after the board this week moved to eliminate policy requiring service personnel to wear uniforms.

Members voted 3-2 to rescind the entire uniform mandate – and not just a section stating a service employee could be fired for being in violation of the policy, according to board president Shane Mallett. The union representing the service workers, who are no longer required to wear uniforms, had requested the firing policy be eliminated.

Mallett said there are other ways to identify employees and assure the safety of students than directing some employees to wear uniforms, and the school district will continue to provide uniforms to the service employees who need and want them.

“We are currently working on an ID badge policy that would be implemented before school starts,” he said. “It will be coming, and we are working on that language. … I initially voted for the uniform policy when it was first passed and thought it would work out. But when something is not working, you have to change the policy.”

The ID badges will have holograms on them, and should help students to identify those who are permitted to be in their school buildings and on their buses, according to Mallett.

A discussion prior to the vote on Monday created confusion for at least two board members – Christine Carder and Sarah Koegler – and some others present. A move toward eliminating the hiring policy only was discussed by the board earlier in the month.

Carder asked why the existing uniform policy couldn’t be amended to remove the firing policy and not totally repealed. Member Tim Birch told her there was already a second policy on the books requiring all employees – both service personnel and teachers – to “dress professionally” and the uniform policy wasn’t needed.

“It’s my understanding we weren’t doing away with the uniforms,” Birch said. “We’re just doing away with the policy.”

Carder said she understood if the entire uniform policy were to be abolished, then the mandate for uniforms also would be eliminated.

“That’s not how I understood it,” Birch said.

Jerry Ames, a representative of the West Virginia School Service Workers Association, reminded board members the union wasn’t asking that uniforms be eliminated for workers, but only that the firing provision of the policy be removed.

Koegler asked that since there was confusion over rescinding the policy, it be tabled until the matter was clarified. Her motion died for lack of a second. Carder and Koegler then voted against rescinding the uniform policy, while Mallett, Birch and Gary Kestner voted in favor.

“I thought we were just going to pass a motion to rescind that (firing) policy,” Carder said. “It is not what I thought was the intent. That’s why there was such confusion.”

Koegler was out of the area this week and not available for comment.

Mallett said the district was paying more than $60,000 for renting the uniforms, as well as laundry service for the uniforms that many didn’t utilize. He said the school district will continue to provide uniforms to employees with “greasy, dirty jobs” such as mechanics and maintenance personnel, but he expects others will not choose to wear them.

Kestner – who previously served as transportation director for the district – said he expects about 15 employees will continue to wear uniforms, while previously the school district provided them to more than 100 employees.

“I understood we were eliminating the uniform policy,” he said. “When you vote to rescind a policy, you are rescinding the entire policy. When we first brought in the policy that forced employees to wear uniforms, I voted against it then. Employees voiced concerns then they thought it was unfair.”

Birch said he was clear on what the board was voting on and understood if the board were to rescind the entire uniform policy, the school district would still continue to provide uniforms to the employees who wanted them.

“I didn’t understand why we had two policies (pertaining to dress) – one for service personnel only and one for all employees,” he said. “I thought all employees should follow the same policy. There was no confusion. I knew what we talking about.”