School dress code gets another look
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Janesville School District officials continue to seek input about a dress code from staff and the community. Suggestions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to read the draft policy.
JANESVILLE A Janesville School Board committee discussed a contentious dress code proposal Tuesday but seemed to come no closer to resolving the issue.
Superintendent Karen Schulte, who was not at last week's school board meeting when the issue flared, defended a draft policy that the board is considering.
"I think it's important for us to set a standard for employees," Schulte said.
The current code says only that employees should wear appropriate attire.
"Well, what is appropriate? That is the issue. We don't know," Schulte told members of the personnel, policy and curriculum committee.
"I think we owe it to our leaders to give them something substantial so they know what to enforce," Schulte said.
Schulte, who indicated she wrote the proposal with legal advice, said she visited 10 schools Monday and saw some staff members wearing flip-flop sandals, sweatpants and other attire she found inappropriate for professionals.
Board member Kevin Murray asked Schulte what she did about the violations.
Schulte said she didn't do anything "because it's vague—what ‘appropriate' is."
Murray said everyone knows what is appropriate, and the problem is that it's not enforced.
Schulte said current policy is not clear.
"I know what I believe. I don't know what you all believe," she said, referring to board members. "That's what we're going to find out."
Murray questioned why this item, which is to become a part of the work rules known as the handbook, is being discussed after courts struck down provisions in the collective bargaining law that make handbooks necessary.
Schulte said the district is waiting to hear what happens to the rulings on appeal.
The district doesn't want to be scrambling to catch up if handbooks are upheld as replacements for union contract language, Schulte said.
Murray questioned whether the district has a problem with teacher dress and said bringing up the issue needlessly harms employee relations.
"It's sure making for a lot of disturbance in schools right now," Murray said.
Murray also suggested the board might not have a majority that favors a new dress code.
Schulte said she doesn't see the turmoil. She said she has heard from few of the hundreds of employees about it.
If the policy is changed, Murray said, he prefers a policy with fewer details.
Murray presented an alternative he wrote, which is one-and-one-half pages long. The draft from the administration is about three pages.
Committee Chairwoman Kristin Hesselbacher agreed that a shorter policy would help.
Schulte said details are needed so that employees don't have to guess what is appropriate.
Some have misread the draft code and thought collared shirts would be required, she said. "Collared shirts" were listed only as an example of what is appropriate, Schulte said, and shirts without collars are OK.
Hesselbacher suggested the policy refer to "professional" and not "business" attire.
"We're not a business, but we are professionals," Hesselbacher said.
Schulte said "business casual" is a commonly understood phrase, but she has no problem with "professional."
Teachers union President Dave Parr also attended the meeting. He said the most recent teacher-attire problem was about five years ago, and he discussed it with the principal.
Parr agreed the teacher dressed inappropriately, and the teacher was sent home to change.
Parr said he would not file a grievance in such a case and would always err on the side of keeping distracting attire out of the classroom.
Parr suggested employees are upset because they think the board is considering "implementing" a dress code.
It would be more acceptable to say the board wants to clarify the existing dress code, Parr said.
"I don't think anyone would argue with clarity," Parr said.
Schulte said she has been talking to superintendents of the Beloit and Beloit Turner districts with an eye to having similar dress codes in the county because employees tend to move among nearby districts.
The dress code remains under development, officials said, and it won't come up for a vote at the board's meeting Tuesday night.