To swag or not to swag? USD 408 officials will wrestle with the question after a parent complained about the pressures that go along with purchasing clothing tabbed as “optional.”
Melissa Parmley voiced three different complaints to the board of education at its Monday meeting. She preceded her gripe with the disclaimer that the apparel issue wasn’t about the money, as much as it was about the principle.
“Your kid does not want to be the kid who’s the oddball,” she said. “There needs to be some sort of limits.”
She relayed a suggestion from a T-shirt manufacturer that the school use only one shirt for all sports.
“That’s his business, and he suggested it because he realized the cost involved in it,” she said.
Parmley, whose daughter plays volleyball, said she felt pressured to purchase additional warm-ups and clothing totaling over $80. Combined with multiple sports over a four-year high school career, she said, it starts to add up.
Superintendent Lee Leiker and high school principal Tod Gordon responded, saying the situation is ostensibly impossible to control.
“Every club and team is different,” Gordon said. “The only thing I know of that’s required is in volleyball, the coach requires a T-shirt for $7.
“I think most coaches would just as soon get completely out of it.”
Softball coach Jennifer Felvus and assistant baseball coach Jordan Metro attended to give their sides of the issue. Only, Parmley left after she presented her concerns, apparently sensing the discussion was over.
The board proceeded to discuss the apparel situation at length with the coaches.
“My stuff is truly optional,” Felvus said. “I see some kids buy it up, some kids don’t.”
Felvus said she’s bought required team hats for students in the past with her own money.
“On the flip side, every kid wants to match,” vice president Jan Helmer said. “We need to start thinking about people who don’t have money.”
Board member Tim Young presented the option of tacking on an additional dollar for all optional clothing purchases to build up a fund to help pay for clothing kids can’t afford.
“If we put that extra money in a fund, that could build up over the years, and we’d have that to support them,” he said.
Felvus said she had declined that option in the past because she didn’t have a problem spending her own money for her athletes.
“As much as we like the swag, the kids like the swag,” board president Jeremiah Lange said. “Let’s be honest.”
“But if everybody can’t afford it, is that really fair?”
Young said parents would understandably be too proud to ask for help.
“You’re not gonna go in front of that kid and go to the coaches and say, ‘I can’t afford it,’” he said.
Gordon said the kids would lose out should options be limited.
“I don’t think it’s the coaches that would be upset,” Gordon said. “I think it’s the kids.”
Leiker said kids may not know best.
“It’s not the kids that are paying the bill, though,” he said. “We’re a 50-percent at-risk district. Fifty percent of our families have challenges, and we know that. Kids may not realize that as much as their parents do.”
Ultimately, the board decided to gather more information by looking at spending data from last year’s teams before going further with a decision.
“I can see how it can get out of hand,” board member Nick Kraus said. “I can see how it’s not the coaches’ fault, and not really the kids’ fault, either.”
Parmley had also expressed concerns about Internet access requirements, saying she didn’t live in an area where good Internet service was available, and that it was hindering her children’s ability to keep up in school.
Leiker said the district, through the ESSDACK group it’s part of, is looking into bulk purchases of Verizon wireless hotspots that could be lent to families in similar situations.
She also raised concerns over the handling of para-educator assignments during the first two to three weeks of school, saying the time taken to solidify arrangements was detrimental to students who require paraprofessional help.