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Dress Codes As Likely to Apply To Teachers as to Students
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In a society where Northwestern University women's lacrosse team members feel free to wear flip-flops to meet the President in the White House, some schools find it necessary to impose dress codes on teachers, not just on students.

Austin, TX schools adopted a policy in 2004 prohibiting teachers from wearing tank tops, spaghetti straps, hats, flip-flops, slippers, shorts, spandex, leggings or anything that resembles an undergarment. Shirts designed to be tucked in must be tucked in, ties are encouraged, and belt loops require a belt. (American-Statesman, 7-2-04)

Short skirts, jeans, T-shirts or baseball caps are out in some districts. Clothing that exposes "cleavage, private parts, the midriff or undergarments" is verboten in District 11 in Colorado Springs, CO.

In Miller County, GA, skirts must reach the knee. Elsewhere in Georgia, hair curlers are forbidden in Harris County and male teachers in Talbot County must wear ties two or three times a week. Male teachers in Houston's Aldine Independent School District must keep their hair above the collar and avoid Fu Manchu mustaches.

"There's an impression that teachers are dressing more and more - well, the good term for it would be 'relaxed,'" said Bill Scharffe, an official with the Michigan Association of School Boards. "Another term for it would be 'sloppy.'" He once sent home a teacher whose belt buckle sported a marijuana leaf. (Associated Press, 7-3-05)

Schools are older hands with student clothing regulations. While such policies typically reflect common sense and community values, they face occasional legal challenges. In Belleville, IL, two high schools prevailed against a federal court challenge in August concerning a new policy mandating shirts in school colors and slacks or skirts in navy, khaki or black that cover the lower torso.

In denying a preliminary injunction, the district judge found that the school board did not violate parents' rights as claimed by the plaintiffs, who included a professor at Washington University in St. Louis. The district racked up an estimated $33,000 in legal fees to defend the dress code, which the plaintiffs may be asked to pay.

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