‘It’s inappropriate’; Washington County Board of Education begins updating employee dress code

ST. GEORGE — The Washington County Board of Education worked to adapt the employee dress code while addressing general clothing policy concerns during a meeting on Tuesday.

Lyle Cox, the Washington County executive director of human resources, presented the proposed changes to the board after he said there has been “increasing cause for concern” for some schools trying to address these problems. This year alone, he said, there have been three incidents where employees have come into the school in clothing that “genuinely caused some concern.”

“We want to make sure that if we have high expectations for our students that the expectations for employees are even higher,” Lyle Cox said. “They set the standard, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”

As an employer, the district reserves the right to enact policies on employee dress that protect its interests, which Lyle Cox said is establishing and maintaining a strong educational environment. The update is an attempt to put additional, more specific, language in the policy so that principals, who are tasked with enforcing the dress code, can better rely on it.

The proposed changes add a paragraph that outlines some examples of what would not be considered generally appropriate, including T-shirts, sweats and shorts. The list then includes more specific examples including tight jeans, tight pants, short shorts, short skirts, sleeveless or sheer tops, and torn clothing.

Parents address the board at a Washington County School Board of Education meeting, St. George, Utah, Nov. 12, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

“Employees should dress with professionalism and integrity,” one of the added lines in the policy reads. “Wearing conservative role model clothing that promotes a positive and professional educational environment is expected.”

If an employee fails to meet the outlined dress and grooming standards they face disciplinary actions at the discretion of the principal, according to the policy.

Employees are able to file an appeal if they believe their dress and grooming meet the standards and the principal’s interpretation of the community standards for dress is inaccurate.

Board member Laura Hesson voiced her concerns with the more specific nature of the proposed changes.

“Do we really have to specify what is appropriate and what’s not appropriate,” she asked the board. “You don’t think that some of those sentences that already say what it says, dressing in a professional or positive manner, or those kinds of things already tell our teachers — who are smart people — that this is what’s appropriate versus trying to narrow it in?”

Lyle Cox recognized the concern but added that there is a changing understanding of what might be considered acceptable as professional dress.

Parents and employees attend the Washington County School Board of Education meeting, St. George, Utah, Nov. 12, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Board President David Stirland voiced his concern, which was opposite from Hesson’s, asking Lyle Cox about the subjective nature of the dress code assessment. The principals who enforce the policy, he said, would probably like to see a more structured guide to follow.

“That becomes obviously much more awkward,” Lyle Cox said. “Even though there may be some interpretation about what is short, a short skirt or short shorts, when it happens, they kind of know it’s inappropriate. That’s the kind of subjectivity we’re going to always have because what was short four years ago is different now.”

Board member Terry Hutchinson shared that at his school, there is an objective measurement for appropriate dress, including shorts that rest four inches above the knee. On the other hand, board member LaRene Cox argued that although it might offer objectivity to a complex situation, four inches above the knee for one person might be completely different than four inches above the knee for another.

Lyle agreed with LaRene, adding that the dress code is meant to help guide principals in deciding what is considered inappropriate.

“You are feeling a little bit of what we feel about the dress codes of students in school,” Superintendent Larry Bergeson told Lyle Cox. “It is extremely difficult. It’s a challenge, and we always do the best that we can.

The board plans to revisit the policy with additional changes at its next meeting on Dec. 10 in the Washington County School District Office at 4:30 p.m.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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