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Scholarships slipping out of fashion with teacher dress code

BRISTOL, Connecticut, U.S.A. — For years teachers have dug deep into their pockets for the privilege of wearing Levis every other Friday.

The money they raised poured about $2,0000 annually into a scholarship account to help college bound seniors who made notable contributions to the school.

But a new dress code decree from Superintendent Ann Clark is keeping teachers shackled in suits and ties — and unwilling to donate to the fund.

The faculty at Bristol Central High School called their fundraiser, “Scholarship Day.”

On this day, teachers were allowed to wear less dressy clothes to work, in exchange for a $25 fee that went into the scholarship

“The cause is really good,” said Ann Norton, an English teacher at Central. She added, “It was a nice break [for the teachers].”

This school year, however, the faculty will have to devise a new plan to raise money for their scholarship fund. That’s because the staff, who made the fundraiser a success over the last few years, almost unanimously refused to contribute to a cause for the right to wear the kind of clothes they normally do.

“The desire that teachers not wear jeans came from me,” Clark said.

Central received a memo from Clark that barred jeans, sweatshirts, or sneakers, even for Scholarship Day.

But, Clark said, “They can still have dress down days.”

Central’s principal, Christopher Clouet, said Scholarship Day can continue as long as the faculty is willing to follow the guidelines of wearing “business casual” clothes. As he describes it, that means “no jackets and ties” necessary.

Frank Dobek, a math teacher at Central, doesn’t think the definitions for casual dress given by Clark and Clouet are sufficient for Scholarship Day’s survival.

“With these constraints, there were no other options for dress down,” he said. “Why offer me something that contains nothing.”

Whatever Clark may have in mind for the dress code for the teachers of Bristol, her ideas seem only vague definitions of what she would like to see. That’s why she has set up a committee to look into the issue.

The Staff Dress Code Policy Recommendation Committee, which is headed up by Tony Distasio, the principal at Northeast Middle School, has met about a half a dozen times so far this year.

In devising its policy, the group tried to make it non-gender biased, considerate of different disciplines of the faculty, and comparable to other faculty dress codes.

“We looked at a dress code not only for teachers and principals, but all the staff,” said Distasio.

Distasio said the policy they have decided on, which they will propose to the Board of Education Feb. 4, is also “vague.”

“It’s pretty general,” Distasio claimed. “We did it that way purposely.”

In the committee’s proposal, the principal of each school will be responsible for policing the policy.

Distasio also said that the policy the committee wants will be flexible to the point where it may even “give us a little latitude to do those (fundraising) days.”

But why the sudden desire to have a faculty dress code?

Clouet said, “There was the perception that some people took [dressing down] too far.”

Distasio agrees.

He said that while he cannot say where any complaints could have come from, “I think what happened was some teachers took it a little too far.”

Clark, who is the major force behind the dress code, maintains that 99 percent of teachers dress appropriately.

She said “it conveys a sense of professionalism to see someone dressed a certain way.”

“I think schools are professional settings and teachers are professionals,” she said.

However, a desire to have school faculties dress in a business-like way may make some well-deserving students miss out on scholarships.

“It’s sad when they have to create restrictions that force people to make decisions that will obviously cause kids to lose out,” said Dobek.

Distasio, whose school does a similar fundraiser to help send students to Washington, D.C., said dress down days have a positive effect on the teachers.

“My opinion is that they are worthwhile,” he said. “I’ve seen what it does for staff morale.”

But Clark said, “Maybe they should look at other ways of raising money for the scholarship.”

Amanda Lehmert is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.

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