Howard County Teachers Told to Leave Ultra-Casual Clothing at Home

Sue Mascaro, left, director of staff relations for Howard schools, Chief Operating Officer Raymond Brown and administrative secretary Vivian Kelly.
Sue Mascaro, left, director of staff relations for Howard schools, Chief Operating Officer Raymond Brown and administrative secretary Vivian Kelly. (By Lloyd Fox -- Baltimore Sun)
By John-John Williams IV
The Baltimore Sun
Friday, August 21, 2009

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 of teachers gathered in Reservoir High's cafeteria.

"No!" the teachers yelled back.

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

Howard teachers are being told to ditch their inappropriate duds in 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, "Expectations for Professional Attire," among employees. The guidelines were devised after officials noticed a decline in professional dress among some teachers.

The message is that the following are frowned 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 or brands that are provocative or obscene; and jewelry or other objects that are connected to the nose, tongue, lip, eyebrow or other exposed body part that may be "deemed a safety issue," the pamphlet says.

"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 appears to be alone in its effort. The school system's committee of teachers, administrators and union leaders, which created the guidelines, did not find any other area system with a similar approach to employee attire, according to Sue Mascaro, director of staff relations. She modeled an inappropriate outfit in the fashion show that consisted of a form-fitting shirt, a denim miniskirt and flip-flops.

The school system has received little resistance since sharing its expectations with staff members in the spring, Perkins said. Questions of clarity have been the only feedback, she said.

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

Attire concerns will ultimately be addressed by school principals, said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. No consequences have been determined for teachers who do not meet the expectations, he said.

"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."

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