School board talks teacher dress code
Some New Hanover County school board members think the teacher dress code needs to be more defined, but three others say getting too specific might deprive the county of some potentially good teachers.
“I’m mainly concerned about professional dress,” school board member Janice Cavenaugh said. She sits on the policy committee, which brought some recommended changes to the existing policy during the June 2 board of education meeting.
Many of the changes involved piercings and tattoos, as well as what constitutes inappropriate dress. The goal, Cavenaugh said, is to avoid distracting apparel, marks or appliances such as ear gauges. In drafting the recommendations, the committee surveyed several large companies, including Disney, about their dress codes.
The school board banned jeans a few years ago, but because more people are getting elaborate tattoos and unorthodox piercings, the committee determined more specifics were necessary.
Among other things, the proposed policy specifies tattoos must be covered, piercings other than standard ear piercings removed and ear gauges, which expand to leave a gaping hole in the earlobe, should be filled in with flesh-colored plugs. Also banned are clingy leggings unless worn with a long tunic fully covering the hips and posterior.
Jeannette Nichols, a former teacher and chairman of the committee, said teachers should dress and act as professionals. To her and some other board members, facial piercings, exposed tattoos and too-tight leggings violate that standard.
“We just felt that a tattoo on the face was a total distraction,” she said. Nichols also said some principals would prefer the board have a universal policy.
But the two youngest board members, Lisa Estep and Tammy Covil, want the committee to revisit the policy, particularly as it applies to jeans.
“I have a problem with us imposing what will be acceptable,” Estep said. The board should trust principals to determine specific rules for their schools, she said.
In particular, she worries a strict dress code could scare off potential talent.
“We have some fabulous teachers who might not look like you and me, and that’s OK,” Estep said.
Three teachers contacted this week said they don’t have a problem with the no-jeans policy.
“You are around children, and you really need to dress appropriately,” said Pam Skipper, instructional coach for Forest Hills Global Elementary School. That includes covering the bottom if one is wearing tight pants and avoiding low-cut tops, she said.
A colleague, Melinda Wiggins, who teaches fifth grade at the school, said it is possible to dress affordably and comfortably without wearing jeans. For the most part, she thinks teachers have good sense when it comes to dress. There are always a few pushing the boundaries, she said, but they can be dealt with individually, she said.
For Thomas Michael Jr., a social studies teacher at Trask Middle School and a former Coast Guardsman, there’s no question about how to dress for class.
“Our school has high expectations,” Michael said, adding that teaching is no ordinary job. “Our real job is lifting up people and how we look very much represents how we feel about our job,” he said.
But Covil and Estep said they also have heard from younger teachers who feel jeans should be acceptable. Estep also has little problem with most tattoos and ear gauges.
Covil said jeans have come a long way since the days of dungarees and frayed bellbottoms. A dark-wash, wrinkle-free jean can complement a professional wardrobe, she said.
“You can dress them up and they look very appropriate,” she said.
Her main concern is affordability.
“We expect people to wear a certain type of clothing, and they may not be able to afford it,” she said.
Bruce Shell, who also sits on the policy committee, disagrees with Nichols and Cavenaugh on the dress issue. He said he does not agree with the list of rules his fellow committee members brought forth.
Each school has a different culture, he said, and what works for one might not work for another.
“I’m not sure we are qualified to decide what works for young people teaching,” Shell said. “We don’t need to micromanage it if [the current policy]is working.”
Nichols said she has asked board members share their suggestions in writing, at which time the policy committee will discuss possible modifications before bringing it to the full board for a vote.