Janesville School Board debates setting dress policy for teachers
JANESVILLE Shorts, jeans and flip-flops or suit coats, ties and dresses?
Long hair, beards, jewelry, spaghetti straps?
How should a teacher dress?
The Janesville School District expects employees to dress appropriately, but it has no specific dress code. Some school board members think there should be one.
The discussion arose in a school board committee meeting Tuesday. The topic was the employee handbook, a document that will replace union contracts if the courts uphold Wisconsin Act 10.
The district is forging ahead with its handbook, which it will need if the courts uphold the law. The school board's personnel, policy and curriculum committee got a first look at some of the preliminary handbook wording Tuesday.
The language includes the district's detailed "Standards of Professional Behavior." The standards have one line about dress: "Wear appropriate attire."
A separate handbook section would detail a dress code, but it has not yet been written.
Board members David DiStefano and Scott Feldt wanted more specifics.
DiStefano said he modified his stand on the issue after hearing from Harrison Elementary School teachers. Those teachers told him that wearing a dress, skirt or pants suit would be difficult for kindergarten teachers because they often are on the floor with students.
DiStefano said he agrees, but he still wants "a fairly strict dress code for the professionals."
DiStefano said it can be hard to tell teachers from students if teachers are wearing blue jeans and flip-flops.
Kristin Hesselbacher, chairwoman of the board's personnel, policy and curriculum committee, said there should be different standards for teachers whose jobs require specialized clothing, such as in phy ed and tech ed.
Steve Sperry, director of human and administrative resources, suggested a dress code should be looser when the classroom temperature is 90 to 100 degrees.
The principal should have discretion in setting standards, Sperry suggested.
Superintendent Karen Schulte agreed on the need for flexibility, but "it helps to have some standards so people aren't guessing about what they should be wearing."
Feldt said if some schools can come up with dress codes for students, it shouldn't be a problem to do the same for staff.
"And God forbid that rules are imposed on people that they may not agree with," Feldt said. "Welcome to the real world."
Board member Kevin Murray warned it would be difficult to create a dress code that covers every situation.
If staff members were required to adhere to some kind of uniform, who would pay for that? Murray asked.
The employee would, Feldt said.
"That's your opinion," Murray responded.
Murray said a dress code doesn't address the district's main goal, which is to improve student achievement.
DiStefano did not. He said he has heard that test scores are higher at the district's TAGOS Leadership Academy on the school's dress-up day.
"I can tell you I feel better when I'm dressed up than when I'm in blue jeans or shorts," DiStefano said. "… I think most people would tell you their achievement is higher."
Schulte suggested officials think about how teachers and the district as a whole should portray their professionalism.
"I'm hoping there's some middle ground here," Schulte added.
Board member Karl Dommershausen suggested employees be allowed into the discussion, which he said would lead to more buy-in.
The board could postpone the dress-code discussion until spring, Dommershausen said, adding, "We have enough on the table."
Dress code is one of many handbook sections that officials are working to complete.
The administration will continue to work on the handbook, Schulte said, and lawyers will review revisions, which the committee will review at a future meeting.