What Not to Wear

by Thomas Lentz, Membership Services Director

                Dress is a highly personal choice for everyone and educators are no exception to the idea that it is both a form of expression as well a reflection of a person’s personality.  In fact, the words “dress code” do not appear anywhere in the PCTA or PESPA contracts.  However, there is a Pinellas District Bylaw on this which is on the district’s website www.pcsb.org under the “About Us” Tab.  The policy concerning instructional staff is 3216 and 4216 for support staff.  Essentially, the two policies are the same except for the first sentence which reads:  “The School Board believes that support staff members, like instructional staff members, set an example in dress and grooming for students to follow.”
                This policy is not a dress code.  It is more of set of guidelines that employees should follow.  It is not meant to be a clear (dispositive) list of what can and cannot be worn by educators.  Rather it leaves it up to the judgement of educators as professionals.  To wear clothing that is appropriate for them and their job duties. What is professional and “encourages respect” for a nurse may be completely different from what achieves the same goal for an ESE Associate, a classroom teacher, and a school psychologist.  There are many different job responsibilities filled by educators throughout the county, so there are many different ways of dressing which “encourages respect” for authority. 
                In fact, setting a clear dress code would be a change in working conditions which would need to be bargained with PCTA and PESPA as the certified bargaining agents for all instructional and support staff in the county.  Also, any such dress code would have to be applied the same in all work sites and schools and therefore is not up the individual principals or supervisors to set.  No school handbook, email, or directive from an administrator or supervisor can override the contract or our right to bargain the impact of this policy on any member of our bargaining unit. 
                If you are told by an administrator that there is a dress code, politely ask them to show it to you.  The only written policy in the district is the one printed at the end of this article.  If an administrator has a more specific set of guidelines such as no jeans or tennis shoes, then they are over stepping their authority and setting something more restrictive than district policy. 
                Now on the other hand, an employee cannot wear anything that is damaging to school property or that is not clean and neat.  Of course, in the normal course of a day it may happen that your appearance will become less clean and neat depending on your worksite and duties.  We all know that sometimes learning can be messy and you may need to wear tennis shoes or athletic gear to keep up with students and to be safe on your feet all day. 
                Ultimately, what you wear is your responsibility as a professional and you should take pride in how you look.  If your principal or supervisor has an issue with what you are wearing, it should be a personal conversation with you as a professional.  If you feel that the standards of dress at your workplace are not equally and fairly applied, contact your PCTA-PESPA Membership Services Director for assistance. 

District Bylaws and Board Policy

The School Board believes that instructional staff members set an example in dress and grooming for their students to follow.  An instructional staff member who understands this precept and adheres to it enlarges the importance of his/her task, presents an image of dignity, and encourages respect for authority.  These factors act in a positive manner toward the maintenance of discipline.

The Board retains the authority to specify the following dress and grooming procedures for staff that will prevent such matters from having an adverse impact on the educational process.  When assigned to District duty, all instructional staff members shall:

A.         be physically clean, neat, and well groomed;

B.         dress in a manner consistent with their instructional responsibilities;

C.         dress in a manner that communicates to students a pride in personal appearance;

D.         dress in a manner that does not cause damage to District property;

E.         be groomed in such a way that their hair style or dress does not disrupt the educational process nor cause a health or safety hazard.