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Is it legal to impose a dress code on teachers?


Q: The school board just adopted a new dress code for students. Now the Board wants to adopt a dress code for teachers. I don't think the board should tell adult teachers how to dress. Is it legal to impose a dress code on teachers?

A: A dress code for teachers is probably legal. Courts have upheld the right of school boards to set dress and grooming standards for teachers and other employees.
 
For example, in 1977 the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was "unwilling to expand the First Amendment protection to include a teacher's sartorial choice." Dress code rulings find only a limited restriction on the teacher's personal freedom because the teacher can change clothes off-duty, away from school.

Further, courts accept there are good reasons for adopting teacher dress codes - improving school discipline, increasing respect for faculty and staff, enhancing the professional image of the schools, and modeling professional behavior for students. The courts do not consider clothing regulations to be arbitrary, capricious, or discriminatory.
 
If there is going to be a dress code you may want to be a part of the process leading to its adoption. Your local Association may consult with the school board or propose standards for the board to consider. Numerous local associations have been very much involved in that process. I hope you will follow up with your UniServ Director and local president to play a role creating standards supported by teachers.

 

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