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Staff Dress Code How-Tos

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Here are some tips for those considering drafting a dress code for staff members:

Involve people from all segments of the school community.

"Do it cooperatively," said Carla Sutherland, assistant superintendent for the Sayreville, New Jersey, public schools. "It's very important to have all parties involved."

Elaine Naleski, the spokeswoman for the Colorado Springs School District 11, agreed. "You need to bring in as many people as possible -- staff and teachers, and building people."

"If you dictate policy, usually you are less successful with enforcement," added Irma Valerio, president of the Colorado Springs Educators Association.

Exercise common sense in writing, enforcing, and following the policy.

"In my view, it's hard to do a one-size fits all policy," said Bruce Hunter, an interim spokesman for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). "A lot of primary teachers are on the floor with kids, and aren't going to wear dresses or suits."

A teacher in a school where Naleski once taught wore a suit and stockings every day and shoes with 3-inch heels. "She never went outside with the kids because she was afraid she would get mussed," said Naleski. "She expected other teachers to supervise her students outside."

All the classes from that grade went on an outdoor field trip to an area with rocks, hills, and streams -- and this particular teacher refused to get off the bus. "She didn't want to get dirty, but she expected other teachers to watch her students," Naleski told Education World. "That can and did cause morale problems."

Determine how staff dress requirements would fit in with existing policy.

"What you do has to be consistent with the contract and case law," said Hunter.

Publicize the policy as much as possible.

Some people think districts shouldn't be spending any time on employee dress codes. "If a district is thinking about a staff dress code, don't bother," said Tom Harrison, president of the Santa Ana (California) Educators Association. "Schools should just have a clause that teachers should dress professionally. Then principals should approach any teacher who is not complying."

"Teachers don't want to be treated like children," he continued. "If a policy is too restrictive or punitive, people will leave, and most principals know that. Principals should be talking to teachers and communicating any concerns to them."

If a teacher were to come to school wearing cut-off shorts, a dirty t-shirt, and flip-flops, said Harrison, that teacher needs to be told, "It's not Saturday."

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