Wichita school administrators could lose blue jeans, more

12/12/2011 5:00 AM

12/12/2011 6:09 AM

Wichita principals and other administrators will be encouraged to wear collared shirts, tailored trousers and skirts or dresses “of appropriate length” at school, according to new dress guidelines being presented to district leaders this week.

Off-limits items include blue jeans, cargo pants, T-shirts, tank tops, tennis shoes, flip-flops, and shirts or blouses that show cleavage or excessive skin.

The new guidelines, developed over the past year by the Wichita Educational Administrators Association, will be presented to school board members at their regular meeting tonight.

Mark Jolliffe, principal at Wilbur Middle School and president of the local administrators group, said the guidelines are intended to “enhance our professional position, and model for our students, staff and community” the importance of professional dress.

“It was just the right time for us to be proactive and to ensure that, as professionals, we’re projecting ourselves appropriately,” Jolliffe said.

Jolliffe said the group based its new guidelines on similar polices at other school districts, including Colorado Springs, Wilmington, N.C., and Waterloo, Iowa.

The document being presented to board members is not an official policy, he said, but a good-faith effort by school leaders to specify what’s appropriate and what’s not. It’s not clear whether or how they would be disciplined for noncompliance.

“It’s a guideline,” Jolliffe said. “But we all have bosses, and if we are struggling in that (appropriate dress) arena, I’m sure our leaders would address that.”

The new guidelines apply to principals and assistant principals as well as those who work at the district’s downtown administration building or the School Service Center.

According to the guidelines, the following items are considered inappropriate for men and women:

•  Blue denim jeans, sweat/wind pants, jogging suits and spandex, lycra or form-fitting pants.
•  Cargo-style pants of any length
•  Shirts/tops/blouses/tank tops which show visible cleavage or excessive skin, such as low-cut, see-through, midriff, halter-style or off-the-shoulder, or those with large armhole cut-outs.
•  T-shirts
•  Beach-style flip-flops
•  Headwear
•  Visible undergarments
•  Visible piercings other than earrings.

The guidelines say administrators could wear jeans, school T-shirts, sweatshirts or athletic shoes for spirit days, athletic events, field trips or other special circumstances.

The administrators group surveyed its 225 members to get feedback on the guidelines, Jolliffe said. Most were comfortable with the list but questioned the “normal business hours” clause.

“At times you can work a 12-, 13-, 14-hour day, first at school and then out to a football game or soccer match,” Jolliffe said. “Jeans were a point that was discussed a lot, and also tennis shoes.”

Professional dress has been a perennial topic in teacher contract negotiations for several years. Some former school board members, parents and others in the community have said they would like to see a stricter standard for teachers than the one in their current contract:

“Teachers will project a positive professional image while dressing in an appropriate manner as determined by the teacher.”

That makes teachers the arbiters of their own style. It also means they can wear what they want — jeans, sweats, flip-flops or shorts — even if they work at one of the nearly two dozen Wichita schools with standardized dress policies for students.

The teachers union, meanwhile, says nearly all Wichita teachers dress appropriately for the job, which often includes doubling as playground, crosswalk or bus-loading supervisors.

“I think there are bigger issues to be discussed than what teachers wear to school,” said Larry Landwehr, president of United Teachers of Wichita.

“There are some teachers that probably need to look at their attire and decide, ‘Is this truly a professional look?’ But again, we don’t want to take away their right to make that decision.”

The district’s contract with the Service Employees International Union Local 513, approved in June, included a new “professional dress philosophy.” That union represents classified school district employees, including custodians, clerical staff, paraprofessionals and food service employees.

According to their new contract, “inappropriate” dress includes clothing that promotes or displays tobacco products, alcohol, drugs, sexually explicit or racially derogatory language, or gang references. It also does not allow clothing that displays the midriff or underwear, low-cut tops, athletic wear and sleepwear.

Landwehr, the teachers union president, said he had heard principals were working on dress guidelines, but that they shouldn’t lead to similar policies for teachers.

“Students don’t perform or behave because of what I’m wearing,” he said. “They perform or behave because of how I present myself and our respect for each other.”

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