Teacher dress code left to principals
A review finds that most problems can be handled at the school, not district, level.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published March 16, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - Remember all the hullaballoo last summer about whether Pasco County teachers wore appropriate clothes to school?
Well, never mind.
A committee of teachers and administrators convened by superintendent Heather Fiorentino, who identified the issue as a problem, completed its review of teacher dress Thursday by deciding that there really is no problem.
The group agreed that attire matters, even suggesting that it deserves a prominent mention in new teacher training. But it deemed the district's current policy, which says the staff should dress in a manner that "will add dignity to the educational profession," as quite sufficient.
"The data speaks. Eighty to 90 percent say everything is fine. For the 10 percent problem the principal can handle it. I think it's overkill" to do more, said Clara Craig, a teacher at Pine View Elementary School.
A survey of principals showed that 82 percent had few to no instances of teachers dressed inappropriately. A survey of employees showed that 97 percent thought the majority of employees dress appropriately.
Some members said campus visits turned up very few examples of "too low, too short, too tight," and those were handled successfully by the principal under the current rules.
The only area where they sought to add some consistency dealt not with clothing, but with body piercings and tattoos. The group recommended that the School Board restrict visible piercings, except earrings, and possibly visible tattoos.
Members hashed out the issue, talking about whether tighter rules would be legally defensible and noting that whatever is done would affect men and women equally. In the end, though, they deemed additional rules on piercings, much more than clothing, as worthy of board consideration.
"The parent expects the teacher to act as a role model," Land O'Lakes High School principal Monica Ilse said. "They don't want their children to get piercings, and yet the teacher has piercings."
Otherwise, the committee recommended leaving things as is, asking each school to work out professional appearance guidelines rather than pushing for a district-level dress code.
"Any school, if you get your staff to buy in at the school level, it really seems to (work better) than if it's coming from any outside source. So I like the idea," said Chris Christoff, principal at Seven Springs Middle School.
The idea raised some concerns for Irene Brown, a teacher who travels among several schools. She worried that different schools could have variations, making it tough for her to know what to wear. She thought a separate standard for traveling teachers might be helpful.
Others suggested that communication with the principal, rather than a written policy, ought to smooth things out. That's where they left the matter.
Teacher dress became a flash point last summer, when Fiorentino said she thought too many teachers were making poor clothing choices. She pressed to add more policy details about exactly what proper attire means.
School Board members said at the time that they thought problem teachers should get individual attention, and encoding a list of clothing dos and don'ts would be unnecessary. Many teachers also complained.
"I think they were kind of angered. They didn't see it as being a big issue," union vice president Frank Roder explained Thursday.
The superintendent moved ahead with the committee nonetheless.
Committee members met three times over six months and discussed what they saw in the district and compared it with other school districts and local businesses.
They tried to be comprehensive, even as many thought it an unnecessary activity.
Still, several admitted, the attention paid to teachers' dress did have an effect.
"I have noticed that teachers do dress up more now than they did at the beginning of the year," said Pam Campbell, who teaches at Woodland Elementary and swears by her open-toed Birkenstock sandals, which might have been banned under the guidelines that initially came out nearly a year ago.
The committee's recommendations next go to the School Board on Tuesday.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.