Inkling of teacher tattoo rules ahead

The School Board is looking to determine just what's appropriate for body art and piercings.

Published March 21, 2007

LAND O'LAKES - Want to teach in Pasco County?

Better keep those piercings and tattoos out of sight.

Following a committee's lead, the School Board on Tuesday decided to move forward with a policy that would restrict visible body piercings and tattoos that are "offensive to community standards." That's the court-approved wording for defining obscenity, by the way.

What does that mean? Depends on who you ask.

Board chairwoman Marge Whaley leaned against the idea, noting that many teachers have small roses tattooed on their ankles, while others have tiny ruby studs in their noses. Some might consider those tasteful, or they might have cultural meaning, Whaley said.

"It would seem to me that would be the principal's call," she said, suggesting a policy change might be too extreme.

Current policy doesn't specifically address piercings or tattoos, so it's up to the principal to decide if a teacher's appearance is distracting. And some body art is, vice chairwoman Kathryn Starkey responded.

"I'm more conservative than you," Starkey said, turning to Whaley. "I'm distracted with the Christmas tree thing going on in the ear."

She pressed for language limiting the number of piercings, even earrings, allowed for school employees. That recommendation prompted some jovial commentary.

"Three or four (earrings) in New Port Richey might be acceptable, but three or four in Dade City would not be acceptable," board member Frank Parker said.

"You've got that right," muttered board member Allen Altman, who lives in Dade City, as the room burst into laughter.

"There are, however, plenty of things they do in Dade City that wouldn't be acceptable in New Port Richey, either," assistant superintendent Ray Gadd chimed in, keeping the mood light.

Altman then tried to bring the session back into focus.

"I'm trying to think of enforcement and simplicity," he said.

He said he leaned toward a standard allowing one set of earrings and no visible tattoos. Whaley again mentioned the small ankle tattoos that some women have.

"So we're going to let roses and butterflies but not skulls?" Altman said.

The staff directed the board's attention back to the "offensive to community standards" language, which mollified everyone well enough to let the policy progress.

The board did not take any steps to change the clothing requirements for teachers, agreeing to leave the existing policy alone. It will, however, require all schools to update their attire guidelines to be more complete and reflective of local norms.

The issue arose last summer, when Superintendent Heather Fiorentino suggested changes to the teacher dress code, saying she believed many teachers were dressing inappropriately. The committee convened after the board declined to change its policy, meeting three times over six months before making its report last week.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or 813-909-4614. For more education news, check out The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Fast Facts:

In other news

The School Board gave an initial nod to a policy that would let seniors who have completed all their graduation requirements except passing the FCAT walk at commencement. The rule still needs another vote before becoming official. Last year, it would have affected 85 students.