Questions arise over HDSB Professionalism Policy

·4 min read

Parents and students have grown increasingly divided over the dress code and professionalism of Halton District School Board (HDSB) teachers.

The concern started with an incident concerning a transgender teacher at Oakville Trafalgar High School who wore large prosthetic breasts with protruding nipples causing an uproar among parents on the lack of professionalism. The incident received international attention with students and concerned members of the community using social media to express their disapproval. For some, the teacher’s right to express their gender through their appearance was being given unnecessary attention tantamount to violating their human rights.

Speaking on condition of anonymity parents of some of the children studying at OTHS shared serious concerns about the policy being ‘unclear and leaving too much room for teacher’s discretion’. “I am not saying you need to exactly spell it out, but the policy needs to be very clear on what is considered appropriate and what isn’t,” says a mother of a 17-year-old at OTHS.

“As a parent, I am strongly in favour of enforcing a dress code for teachers,” says Farva Jafri whose son studies in Grade 12 in the Region of Halton. “Teachers have a profound effect on children’s development. They are the most influential presence in a student’s life after parents and family members,” she adds.

Halton District School Board Director of Education Curtis Ennis, “The HDSB’s commitment to human rights remains rooted in our core values and commitment to each and every student and staff who identifies as a member of an underserved and underrepresented group, and our approach is informed by opinions from leading employment law firms with human rights and equity advisors. This commitment and approach will continue to be applied as the HDSB looks to fulfill this motion.”

Discussions on whether schools, already have or should have dress codes for teachers started dividing parents in online message boards. Some parents were of the opinion the teacher in question was being targeted for an expression of their gender, while others said that wasn’t the issue at all rather any teacher dressing inappropriately would raise the same concerns.

“I know some parents have been saying this [dress code policy] is a human rights violation. I don’t agree. We are teaching our children what is appropriate and what isn’t and it is okay to have teachers adhere to the same principles,” says Nida Ahmed who works as an educator in Milton with 10 years of experience in childcare and early years development.

Amy Smith whose 16-year-old daughter studies in a Halton high school pointed out that other workplaces already have dress codes. “I thought there was already one in place.”

According to the HDSB, a professionalism policy exists.

“There are many policies already in place that outline a professional code of conduct which are supported by the Ontario College of Teachers Association,” says Chair of the Board of Trustees for HDSB Margo Shuttleworth.

Joan Clark’s daughter started high school in Halton last fall. “There is no room for ambiguity. This incident has proved that while most teachers may not require clear-cut guidance on appropriate attire, some do.”

The Board of Trustees is responsible for finalizing a clearer and more detailed professionalism policy. They last met on March 1 after an initial draft was submitted with the help of the high school’s ethics committee. A survey was launched on February 12 - to parents, guardians, students and employees - till March 12 to share their views and concerns.

HDSB Board Chair of Trustees Margo Shuttleworth is confident this matter will be resolved soon, “When the process is complete, we will review the feedback at the board meeting scheduled around March 21 or 22. There will be a discussion and we will try to give a clear path forward.”

When asked what they expect from a professionalism policy, Jenny a mother of two elementary school children in Halton shares, “Most likely some guidelines on what an appropriate dress code is without violating anyone’s human rights. I don’t expect anything drastic rather more like what you see in the private sector.” Many parents this writer spoke with echoed Jenny’s sentiments.

It is important to note that according to HDSB, “All school boards in Ontario are currently in negotiations with teachers’ unions. This means school boards cannot legally make changes to working conditions for teachers until contracts have been ratified.”

A request for comment was submitted to MPP Parm Gill’s office, but they did not respond.

Mahnoor Sherazee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Milton Reporter, Milton Reporter