PARKERSBURG - School officials in Lewis County are making state headlines after adopting a dress code for teachers.
The move has generated debate and a likely legal challenge from the teachers union. Wood County Schools has no such dress code and officials aren't sure it's needed.
The Lewis County Board of Education recently approved a dress code for teachers. The policy regulates skirt lengths and excludes blue jeans.
The code is to be enforced on teachers and the administration whenever students or parents are present.
The code does not apply to custodians, cooks, bus drivers, or maintenance employees.
The American Federation of Teachers in Lewis County is considering a legal challenge to the code.
Greg Merritt, president of the Wood County AFT, said the Lewis County debate has been a huge topic of discussion at the state level.
"It is something they are very concerned about," he said. "The AFT typically opposes a dress policy."
Merritt and Bob Harris, assistant superintendent of pupil and personnel services, both said there is no dress code per se in Wood County. They both cited a court case from Mason County where a teacher who challenged the dress code was reinstated.
"That kind of set the precedent that you could not institute dress codes," Merritt said.
Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Education, said there is no specific dress code policy at the state level.
However, Cordeiro said there are specific references to appearance, related to "commanding respect through appearance" and "educator evaluation."
Harris said the Wood County school system has a dress code for students, prohibiting drug and alcohol advertisement and revealing clothing, and faculty members are expected to follow suit.
"The same dress code, in terms of being appropriate to working with children," Harris said. "It is hard to command respect as a teacher when you don't honor the same rules that kids have to follow."
Harris is sure assistant superintendents Mike Winland (secondary schools) and Joe Oliverio (elementary schools) field occasional complaints from parents regarding teacher dress. He recalled an instance when complaints were raised about an outgoing teacher wearing short skirts with tights.
"Parents felt it was too short, but there was nothing the principal could do," Harris said. "In her mind she was dressing appropriately."
Merritt also believes a dress policy would be difficult to enforce, citing a shop teacher who doesn't wear a tie for a safety reasons.
"There is always going to be an exception," he said. "No shorts. Does that apply to gym teachers? On spirit day, is there going to be an exception to allow teachers to wear T-shirts? So why have the policy?"
Harris, who served as a principal for 24 years in the school system, said he set the bar for his staff.
"I was dressing for kids as a principal should dress (suit and tie)," he said. "Over a period of two or three years they implemented it themselves. It is better they address the need themselves rather than being told. If they are told to do it, they feel like their rights are being taken away."