Midterms, What About Midriffs? Teacher Attire Becoming a Touchy
Ben Feller, Associated Press, July 3, 2005
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expected to bear long days, challenging students and demanding
parents. Now, apparently, some teachers are baring too much of
School boards and superintendents increasingly are pursuing
dress codes for teachers. At issue is the same kind of
questionable attire most often associated with students.
In some districts, teachers can get dressed down for wearing
skimpy tops, short skirts, flip flops, jeans, T-shirts, spandex
or baseball caps. Spaghetti is fine in the cafeteria, but shirts
supported by spaghetti straps are not welcome in the classroom.
District 11 in Colorado Springs, Colo., for example, prohibits
sexually provocative items. That includes clothing that exposes
"cleavage, private parts, the midriff or undergarments,"
district rules say.
In Georgia's Miller County, skirts must reach the knee.
Elsewhere in the state, hair curlers are disallowed in Harris
County and male teachers in Talbot County must wear ties two or
three times a week.
"There's an impression that teachers are dressing more and more
– well, the good term for it would be 'relaxed,'" said Bill
Scharffe, director of bylaws and policy services for the
Michigan Association of School Boards. "Another term for it
would be 'sloppy.'"
Regulating dress is touchy, teachers say.
Teachers may view policies that get too specific as restrictive
and demeaning. And what to do about broad policies that are
enforced inconsistently? What works for a physics teacher may
not fit a kindergarten teacher who sits with students on the
"Because we work with children, and we're trying to relate to
them, sometimes we need to have guidelines that say, 'You know
folks, here's the line, and you really need to stay on this side
of it,'" said Karen Moxley of Grapevine, Texas, who teaches
But, she added, "I don't know that it needs to go down to what
style of outfit you wear."
Moxley spoke during a group interview with The Associated Press
at the annual meeting of the National Education Association,
which got under way over the weekend.
School administrators say inappropriate dress is most often an
issue with younger teachers, whose trendy clothing and casual
style can make it hard to distinguish them from their students.
Mark Berntson, who teaches high school band in West Fargo, N.D.,
wears a tie each day. It's a tradition he began years ago to
stand out from his students. He does not wear blue jeans to
class often, saving them for occasions such as the first day of
"I don't think I'm taken as seriously if I'm dressed down and I
don't think I take my job as seriously if I'm dressed down," he
said. "When I dress more professionally, I think I teach better,
I think I'm received better, and I think I show more respect for
Schools usually have exceptions, such as allowing gym teachers
to wear shorts. But sometimes the trouble is in finding the line
At the Tangipahoa Parish School System in southeastern
Louisiana, the dress code was recently updated to let women wear
crop pants that stretch almost to the ankle. But the school
board still does not allow Capri pants because those stop only
around the midcalf.
In Houston, the Aldine Independent School District's policy is
cut-and-dried: Male teachers must ensure their hair does not go
below the collar. Their sideburns cannot extend beyond the
earlobe. Mustaches may not be of the "Fu Man Chu" variety.
This year in Alabama, Birmingham school superintendent Wayne
Shiver Jr. tried to ban excessively tight clothing, see-through
tops, blouses with revealing necklines and other no-nos.
But city school board members have directed him to scale back
his plan in favor of a more generic policy. They do not want
their administrators to become the fashion police.
"What's too short? What's too long? What's too provocative?
What's too revealing?" said Jacqueline Oglesby, a representative
for the Alabama Education Association, which worries about
unfair enforcement of a dress code. "Everyone has their own
definition. And besides, this is supposed to be about the
education of children, not tattoos or holes in your tongue."
On the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where Aaron Paragoso teaches
music, neat and casual clothes are the norm. He wears a tie when
sixth-graders graduate from his school, telling them: "I'm
congratulating you by dressing up in this manner. It shows that
I'm very proud of you."
Teachers set the example, said Scharffe, the Michigan official
and former director of school personnel. That is why he once
sent home a teacher whose belt buckle featured a marijuana leaf.
Schools must balance their right to enforce reasonable rules
against the freedom of expression that employees have under the
First Amendment, said Lisa Soronen, staff lawyer for the
National School Boards Association. School lawyers often
determine a dress code "might be a nice idea, but it might not
be worth the time and headaches to go through with it and do
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