tampabay.com

Piercings, tattoos could become taboo

By JEFFERY S. SOLOCHEK
Published April 23, 2007


LAND O'LAKES - The committee came together to look into whether teachers dressed appropriately, and what, if anything, to do about it.

The group of teachers, administrators and community representatives found the clothes that teachers chose did not pose a problem and recommended no change.

They focused instead on body decorations. The story that kept coming up was of the teacher who interviewed in slacks, won a job and showed up for work in shorts that showed two legs covered in intricate, permanent artwork.

The result is a recommended policy just 14 words long: "Visible body piercings and tattoos that are offensive to community standards will be restricted."

The School Board is scheduled to give the proposed rule a look for the first time Tuesday. If it approves the language, it would limit teachers in a way that its neighboring districts do not.

Pinellas, Hillsborough and Hernando counties simply ask that their teachers dress professionally. They've talked about getting more strict, but haven't taken action. Not when Pinellas tightened its student dress code, not when Hernando had a flap over teachers in flip-flops.

And leaders in those communities doubted that the debate ever would get to the level of piercings and tattoos.

"They're pretty tough ones to get passed," said Barbara Kidder, director of labor relations and professional standards in Hernando. "We live in a different world today. Some can be very tasteful. Where do you draw the line?"

Michelle Dennard, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, homed in on the seeming simplicity of Pasco's proposed language and asked the obvious question.

"I've got a body piercing, in my ear. Is that offensive?" Dennard wondered.

She suggested that, without negotiations and lots of talks with teachers, such a proposal could cause a revolt if it came up in Pinellas.

Lynne Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, didn't expect to fight the recommendation. The district's existing professional appearance policy leaves room for such a move, she said, and so it would really be a small change.

No one has complained about the idea since it first came up about a month ago. Assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly has assured that no one wants to be a fashion police.

Still, Webb added, enforcement seems problematic.

"I'm not quite sure what the community standard here in Pasco is," Webb said, "given that we have more nudist colonies than anywhere in the United States."

Already, board chairwoman Marge Whaley has expressed reservations about the policy.

"I think the principal is in charge of his or her school and they need to decide" whether a teacher looks professional, Whaley said.

Other board members, by contrast, have said they would go as far as limiting the number of earrings a teacher can have.

That led Whaley to hedge her bets as to whether the policy will have legs. "We'll see," she said. "We'll see."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.