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How I Handled...

Teachers Who Wear
Inappropriate Clothing

What about the female teacher who wears form-fitting tops with plunging necklines? Or the male teacher who wears jeans and sandals? When the dress code calls for "business casual," stating what business casual means and -- more important -- does not mean can be key to avoiding problems.

The Problem:

Last year I had to deal with two teachers who dressed inappropriately for the school setting. One wore clothing that was too revealing and the other dressed too casually.

The Solution:

Our official dress code called for teachers to wear "business casual" clothing. Clearly, that term was too vague for the two teachers with whom I have had to address this issue. Since the terminology was vague and the policy had no teeth, I had to carefully consider what I would say when I talked with them. I couldn't very well throw the policy at them. They'd be able to point out its loopholes, its lack of clear definition. So I decided to approach the issue as one of personal concern. I said to the teachers, "I need you to refrain from wearing _____ at work. Otherwise others might misinterpret the dress code." I knew the two teachers respected me, so if I made it an issue of personal respect, they might make an effort to conform to my idea of "business casual."

Fortunately, the non-threatening, respectful approach did work. But I also knew that I needed to do something to make the teacher dress code more secure, less open to interpretation. I needed to spell out specifically what was considered acceptable business casual and what was not.

I turned to the Internet to do some research. There I found many good resources, including the Dress Code and Conduct page that is part of the United States Sports Academy Employee Handbook. I felt this group's policy offered a fairly complete list of what might be considered inappropriate clothing (see "Unacceptable Attire" at the above link). That resource served as a guide as we revamped our dress code to make it more specific, less open to interpretation, or, should I say, misinterpretation. The new policy includes statements that refer to "denim jeans of any description," "dresses or blouses with plunging necklines," "beach shoes," and other items of clothing as inappropriate attire for our teachers.

The Reflection:

The Internet can be a useful tool for learning and for setting guidelines on most any issue you might face. If you're facing the issue, chances are others have faced it before. Some of the useful resources I found as I researched the issue of teacher dress codes appear below:

Dress Code and Conduct
This page from the United States Sports Academy's employee handbook offers a fairly complete list of what might be considered inappropriate clothing. [See "Unacceptable Attire" section.]

Dealing With a Dress Code
This is part of a student-created project from the University of South Carolina. It includes useful information, including information about possible anti-discrimination conflicts that might be caused by dress codes.

Blue Denim Blues
The district where I am superintendent became unhappy in its own unique way in April 2000 when newly elected board members suggested that a few teachers were not dressing in a professional manner and needed to wear more appropriate attire

Opinion: Teacher Dress Codes
The local teachers' union apparently won't challenge the authority of the school board to set a dress code for educators. Although it would have been amusing to watch union officials defend the right of a high-school teacher to ply his trade in a T-shirt, cut-offs and flip-flops, the union made a wise decision

Campbell Teachers Told to Dress Up
Dress-down days and casual Fridays are officially a thing of the past for teachers in the Campbell County (Kentucky) Schools. A new dress code, called "completely unnecessary" by the president of the teachers' union, spells out exactly what teachers can and cannot wear to school and has been unanimously approved by the school board.

About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. How I Handled team members are anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.