Hairston dress-code note sparks formal grumblings


In retrospect, some say it was a big to-do about nothing.

But when an e-mail went out from Baltimore County's new superintendent, Joe A. Hairston, Friday saying that school system employees couldn't wear jeans, shorts or sandals without socks or hose on "Casual Fridays," jaws dropped.

Most upset were teachers. Many thought the directive - sent to all administrators - was aimed at them and that the Friday prohibitions extended to the other days of the week as well.

"We got a ton of calls at TABCO," said Cheryl Bost, vice president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "Basically everyone was questioning it."

Gym teachers in Dockers? Kindergarten teachers in Lord & Taylor? Summer school teachers outfitted in Birkenstocks and tube socks? How could he?

That was Monday.

By yesterday, most of the county's 7,000 teachers had gotten the message that Hairston's managerial missive had sparked a major misunderstanding.

The e-mail was supposed to have gone only to administrators at school system headquarters, though Hairston said yesterday it was also intended as a reminder for all employees to "dress professionally." A complaint had been voiced recently by a community group that some staff members were dressing too casually, he said.

"The point of the message was to use common sense and to police ourselves," said Hairston, who prefers white dress shirts and dark suits. "We can't have people out there half naked or to look worse than the kids."

Still, teachers, many of whom work with children who are prone to spilling fruit juice and finger paints, won't be expected to wear flannel suits or silk blouses, he said.

Basically, they can wear whatever they want but should steer clear of halter tops and bare midriffs, said Hairston, who endorses Casual Fridays, days when many teachers wear colorful polo shirts to promote school pride.

At a meeting with TABCO representatives Monday, Hairston made it clear that he doesn't want "sock police," said Bost, who attended the meeting dressed in shorts and sandals.

"He said he didn't even know what hose are," she said, giggling.

The misfired message has turned into a "bigger deal" than it should have been largely because it was the first "official" word many teachers had from Hairston, said Bost.

"This was the first correspondence that dealt with teachers," she said. "We were all waiting to see what he would say and for the first message to be about the dress code, well, we were all a bit surprised."

As word of the dress code message surged through the teacher grapevine, some thought it was a practical joke sprung on them by playful principals.

Bost, who is a teacher at Mars Estates Elementary School in Essex, laughed aloud when her principal told her about it.

Said Bost: "I just figured he must be joking because he knows that I am not the kind of person who likes to be told what I can and can't wear to work."

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