Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Campbell teachers told to dress up

By Jeff Carlton and Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dress-down days and casual Fridays are officially a thing of the past for teachers in the Campbell County 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.

  Principals in Campbell County Schools will maintain a watchful eye for the following items deemed by the school board as inappropriate dress for teachers:
• Athletic shoes, hiking boots and over-the-knee boots.
• Capri pants.
• Jeans (denim or chambray).
• Visible body piercings, other than ears.
• Coaching shorts.
• Hawaiian wear.
• Zippered tops, thermal tops, halter tops, muscle shirts, leotards and tank tops.
• Sheer or see-through clothing, backless tops.
• Short-sleeved knit shirt worn without sport coat.

        Inappropriate dress for teachers includes athletic shoes, hiking boots, Capri pants and jeans.

        The district said the plan reinforces teachers as role models. It also follows the trends of business fashion, which is returning to a more professional look, said East End fashion consultant Kim Thomas.

        “If you look better, you feel better, and you perform better,” said Ms. Thomas. “Somewhere down the line things started getting sloppy. These signals translate to the kids.”

        But in the academic world, a teacher dress code is still fairly new, said Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association. With a 5-0 vote Monday evening, the Campbell County Board of Education joined 13 other Kentucky school districts with similar policies.

        In Ohio, such a requirement is even less common.

        A spokeswoman for the Ohio Board of Education said she has never heard of any school district in the state with a teacher dress code. Cincinnati Public Schools doesn't have a district-wide policy, and dress codes vary from school to school, a CPS spokeswoman said.

        Gary Wooddell, assistant superintendent of the Oak Hills School District, which serves about 8,000 students in western Hamilton County, said teacher dress has never been a contentious issue in his district.

        Despite an absence of rules, though, there are certain expectations.

        “In the early '70s, when I went to interview for my first job I remember walking in and noticing everyone wore a tie. So, I wore a tie. There was never any formal (dress) policy. But there were expectations. It never even occurred to me not to wear a tie. You go with the crowd,” Mr. Wooddell said.

        Chris Gramke, spokesman for Campbell County Schools, which serves more than 4,700 students, said no complaints had been made by students or parents about the way teachers dress. The dress code was implemented to head off any future problems, he said.

        “We aren't trying to be the fashion police,” Mr. Gramke said. “This will help ensure professionalism from our teachers.”

        Blame Bill Gates.

        Fashion industry experts say business attire began to lose popularity with the insurgence of the online and computer industries.

        “(Web designers and programmers) spent all their time in the office. They didn't meet with any one. So, how they dressed didn't matter,” said Ilene Amiel, a self-employed corporate fashion consultant, based in Scarsdale, NY.

        This trend spread through the business world, gaining steadily in appeal as workers readily shunned their dry clean-only dress suits in favor of the less expensive cotton slacks, button-down shirts, sweater sets and jeans.

        So great is the attraction of casual dress in the workplace now that many companies tout such policies as part of their benefits packages.

        “If you had to choose between two jobs with similar salaries and responsibilities and one had a casual dress code, which would you choose?” Ms. Amiel asked.

        Proponents of the teacher dress code in Campbell County also point to the high school and middle school dress code for students. At the high school, students are prohibited from showing their midriffs and wearing T-shirts with logos deemed inappropriate, such as beer advertisements.

        In addition, girls who wear skirts are subject to the “fingertip rule.” The bottom of the skirt must be lower than the girl's fingertips when she stands up straight with her arms at her side.

        “If we hold our students to a dress code, how can we expect anything less from our teachers?” asked Diana Heidelberg, one of the 11 members of the dress code committee.

        But for as long as anyone can remember, teachers in Campbell County have never had problems with their appearance. No complaints have been registered with the superintendent's office, Mr. Gramke said.

        “There has never been a problem in my 27 years of teaching,” said Karen Allen, vice president of the Campbell County Education Association. “I can't imagine why they decided to do this.”

        One of the union's biggest contentions with the new policy is the rule against sweat shirts and T-shirts, Mrs. Allen said. Many teachers frequently wear Campbell County sweat shirts and T-shirts sold on school property by the PTA.

        “The whole dress code seems funny,” Mrs. Allen said. “Those shirts are good for school spirit.”

        Policing teacher dress is ultimately up to the school principals, who can make exceptions on any of the prohibited items.

        For example, Brenda Moore, a special education teacher who frequently has to lift children in and out of wheelchairs, said she will be allowed to wear athletic shoes.

        Despite such exceptions, the district is serious about the new dress regulations. That message is clear in the official policy: “There are to be no casual Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays.”


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