The School Board last week enacted revised policies for student dress code and professional conduct of staff members—in different senses establishing standards for freedom of expression for teachers and students.
Revisions to the policy for professional conduct have been in the works since 2019, although the rules governing teacher speech came under scrutiny last May when a Leesburg Elementary School teacher, Byron “Tanner” Cross, spoke out against the district’s proposed protections for transgender students. Cross, who told the School Board that enforcing the policy would violate his Christian faith, was placed on administrative leave after an outcry from parents of students in Cross’ class. Cross sued for his reinstatement and was awarded an emergency injunction to return to his teaching position, Judge James E. Plowman ruling that Cross’ right to free speech had been violated. The school district appealed, but the state Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision. The case will next be tried in Circuit Court.
This revised policy reaffirms that, while teachers have a right to free speech, they are expected to heed the district’s commitment to “equitable treatment.” The policy states that “employees of the school division must recognize that they are in a position of public trust.”
In the policy, employees are told that they should report instances of violations of the policy to their direct supervisor.
Jeff Morse (Dulles) said that the revisions made to Policy 8270, Student Dress Code, represent the most substantial rewrite of any policy during his decade on the School Board.
“This addresses the need to provide equality in the dress code for male and female. The expectation is that the way a child dresses will never be held against them,” Morse said.
Under the policy, students may not wear hoods over their heads during classroom instruction, or tube tops. The hood restriction will not apply to religious headdresses and attire.
During a committee meeting in June, board member Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) said that he wanted the policy to limit student’s freedom of expression to the least extent possible.
Morse introduced a motion, supported by John Beatty (Catoctin) to include bare midriffs in banned attire. Though the motion failed, Morse said that he had spoken to six female teachers who supported his stance.
“It is not my attempt to body shame or enforce an unrealistic standard,” Morse said. “We’re in an educational environment and we have to have some level of consistency.”
Morse called the policy otherwise very open and student-friendly.
Beatty moved to ban clothing bearing profanity. That motion passed 8-0.