Parents of students from Oakville school threatening legal action over teacher dress code matter

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Oakville teacher who wore prosthetic breasts not likely to be subject to dress code, school board review finds
RELATED: Oakville teacher who wore prosthetic breasts not likely to be subject to dress code, school board review finds – Nov 11, 2022

A group of parents whose kids are students at Oakville’s Trafalgar High School are threatening to take legal action against the local school board if it doesn’t adopt a system-wide dress code for staffers.

In two letters sent to the Halton District School Board (HDSB) via a lawyer this week, the parents demanded the board “cease and desist” from interfering with a dress code contending it’s a function of school council.

The correspondance is in answer to a months-long controversy tied to a teacher who made headlines around the world for wearing large prosthetic breasts to class which has been characterized as “discomforting” to parents.

Legal counsel for three guardians, Rishi Bandhu, told 900 CHML’s Hamilton Today his clients have been “met with silence” by the HDSB over repeated attempts to have their concerns addressed over a matter they consider to be “obscene.”

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“It’s pornographic. It’s inconsistent with the student dress code and it’s really not an issue of gender identity or expression,” Bandhu said.

“It seems to be, according to the parents, more of an issue of fetish expression and that’s not a human rights issue as far as we can see.”

An HDSB school board review in early November recommended against adopting a dress code for staffers, suggesting it would potentially spark human rights violations.

“It is clear from the above analysis that the implementation of a formal staff dress code or grooming standards would likely expose the Board to considerable liability,” the joint statement from superintendent Sari Taha and director of education Curtis Ennis said.

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The HDSB had been considering a dress code when the Trafalgar High matter first came to light, but decided against it, saying in the report it’s important to recognize the impact dress code policies have on members of the transgender community.

School board executives also stated that since their collective agreement with teachers expired in August, nothing new has been signed, and its hands are tied as it’s not able to adjust working conditions during those negotiations.

Under the Halton District School Board’s existing collective agreement with its unionized workers, the board can implement a dress code if the appearance of a staffer poses a real threat to its business “that is more important than the rights of the employee.”

The Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) told Global News in early December that it provided a professional standards report to the province’s education minister in connection with the Oakville teacher’s attire.

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On Monday, Stephen Lecce addressed the matter during an unrelated media conference saying the HDSB has an “obligation” to ensure classrooms are “safe and respectful places.”

“So I do not believe the board administration has done so to date,” Lecce rebuked.

“I do believe the Ontario College of Teachers corroborated this principal and they said that the board has the necessary authorities to enforce those standards. So I expect them to do so.”

Rishi, who has a child that attends Trafalgar High, insists his clients’ take on the matter is not a gender expression issue but simply a dress attire question and that all persons in Ontario are entitled to express their gender in the workplace.

“We want to know why the student dress code isn’t being applied, but the board continually says that this is not an issue for parents. It’s an operational issue. It’s a human resource issue,” said Bandhu.

“Effectively, ‘mind your own business,’ and our view is that’s not proper and lawful.”

HDSB’s human resources supt. reiterated in a statement to Global News Friday said that the board is still bound by a ‘statutory freeze’ prohibiting work condition changes with “no governing collective agreement.”

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Taha said the board’s obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code states that even if a dress code is implemented for non-discriminatory reasons and in good faith, it would likely be found to be discriminatory.

“As a result, even a truly reasonable and non-discriminatory dress code or grooming standards would most likely fail to achieve the HDSB’s intended goal of being an employer that fosters a culture of professionalism, respect, equity and inclusion,” Taha insisted in an email.

A HDSB spokeserson is directing concerned students to begin a dialogue with a “trusted adult” including teacher, educational assistant, social worker, child and youth worker, school administration or school guidance counsellor regarding any concerns.

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