Fashion No-no's

Howard Gives New Teachers Lessons On What Not To Wear To Work

August 21, 2009|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,john-john.williams@baltsun.com

It was a classic case of what not to wear.

Mary Schiller, a Howard County school system employee, walked down the aisle in a gray T-shirt that read "Yankees Suck." To accent the outfit, she wore ripped jeans and flip-flops.

"Is this school attire?" Mamie Perkins asked the crowd gathered in Reservoir High's cafeteria.

"No!" the crowd of teachers yelled back.

"Mary calls that her grunge look," Perkins, the system's chief of staff, said with a laugh. "It's perfect for Saturday."

In Howard County, teachers are being told to ditch their inappropriate duds at the workplace. Thursday, the system held a fashion show for 200 new teachers that showed them appropriate - and inappropriate - ways to dress in the classroom.

This year, for the first time, the school system has circulated a pamphlet called "Expectations for Professional Attire" to employees. The expectations were devised after school system officials noticed a decline in professional dress among some teachers.

The expectations frown upon: garments that expose underwear; sheer clothes; torn, tattered or disheveled clothes; flip-flops; hats; clothing with obscene, vulgar or profane language or illustrations; clothing with sexual overtones; and shorts for employees who do not teach physical education.

The expectations also list as inappropriate visible tattoos that are provocative or obscene; and jewelry or any other objects that are connected to the nose, tongue, lip, eyebrow or other exposed body part that may be "deemed a safety issue," according to the pamphlet.

"We're not trying to be the fashion police," said Perkins, who served as the fashion show's emcee. "We are a professional workplace. We want to make sure we remain that way in sharing these standards."

Howard County appears to be alone in its latest efforts. The school system's committee did not find any other area school system with a similar approach to employee attire, according to Sue Mascaro, the director of staff relations, who modeled an "inappropriate outfit" during the fashion show that consisted of a form-fitting shirt, a jean miniskirt and flip-flops.

The school system has received little resistance since initially sharing its expectations with staff members last spring, according to Perkins. She said the only feedback she has received were questions of clarity.

"People asked, 'Are these flip-flops OK because they have a diamond on them?' " Perkins said, with a laugh.

The guidelines are a result of work by a committee comprising teachers, administrators and union leaders, according to school officials.

Attire concerns will ultimately be addressed by school principals, said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. There are no set consequences for teachers who do not meet the expectations, according to Cousin.

"It's going to be the principal's responsibility to gently remind them," Cousin said. "It's not a code. It is a recommendation. I think folks will comply. It's the right thing to do."

The head of the school system's teachers union supports the idea. She stressed that the expectations are not official rules, which she said would require school system and union officials to negotiate an agreement.

"Those guidelines are not enforceable," said Ann DeLacy, president of the Howard County Education Association. "They are suggestions."

The new hires appeared to support the clothing expectations.

"I thought it was a really great way to visually see it," said Francesca Terrano, who will teach physical education at Centennial Lane Elementary in Ellicott City. "It was a positive. We're held to a higher standard because we are educators."

As a teacher fresh out of college, Jon Dupski thinks that the expectations can only help him.

"As a young-looking male working in a high school, I think this gives you a better relationship with students," said Dupski, who will be teaching math at Atholton High in Columbia.

Dupski, a resident of Ellicott City, recently completed his student teaching requirement while attending Towson University.

"We were required to wear a shirt and tie every day for student teaching," he said. "These [expectations] aren't a big deal."

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