Halton school board ‘making good progress’ on dress code tied to Oakville high school controversy

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

Executives with the Halton District School Board (HDSB) say they are closer to a policy regarding what teachers can wear on the job.

In a meeting Wednesday night, the board revealed few details of what a forthcoming dress code will look like, but insisted a new policy is on track and a draft should be ready by March 1.

The “professionalism policy,” outlining requirements to maintain standards of dress and decorum in the classroom, is in answer to an ongoing matter at an Oakville high school spurred on by a teacher who made international headlines for wearing large prosthetic breasts to class.

The months-long controversy at Oakville’s Trafalgar High School precipitated several threats, forcing police to conduct searches of the facility, and is now the subject of legal action by a group of parents seeking a system-wide dress code for staffers.

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The board considered a dress code when the matter first came to light at the start of the school year but decided against it, citing the importance of recognizing how a dress code might affect staffers who are members of the transgender community.

“We are making good progress in the development of this draft policy to be presented March 1,” HDSB director of education Curtis Ennis said in the Thursday meeting.

“I look forward to having that conversation, hearing from community and stakeholders, and determining our next steps.”

Ennis said they were still working out the methodology of how they will collect the thoughts of stakeholders during a consultation process yet to transpire.

“I was quite clear that schools, councils and communities are part of that, ” Ennis told board members.

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“So that’s one very important stakeholder relationship that we will be seeking and soliciting input from.”

A ‘statutory freeze,’ as per the Ontario Labour Relations Act, has somewhat tied the board’s hands as it’s not able to adjust working conditions amid ongoing negotiations over a collective agreement with teachers that expired in August 2022.

An early November report recommended against adopting a system-wide 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 Ennis said.

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.

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

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

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

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