The school board last week passed revised policies regarding the dress code for students and the professional conduct of staff members, in different senses, setting standards of free speech for teachers and students.
Reviews of the professional conduct policy have been underway since 2019, although the rules governing teacher speech came under scrutiny last May when a teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, Byron ” Tanner ”Cross, spoke out against the protections offered by the district for transgender students. Cross, who told the school board that applying the policy would violate his Christian faith, has been placed on administrative leave after an outcry from parents of students in Cross’s class. Cross sued for his reinstatement and obtained an emergency injunction to return to his teaching post, with Judge James E. Plowman ruling that Cross’s 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 then be judged before the Circuit Court.
This revised policy reaffirms that while teachers have the right to free speech, they must heed the district’s commitment to “fair treatment”. The policy states that “school division employees must recognize that they are in a position of public trust”.
In the policy, employees are informed that they must report cases of violation of the policy to their immediate supervisor.
Jeff Morse (Dulles) said the revisions to policy 8270, Student Dress Code, represent the most substantial rewrite of any policy in his decade on the school board.
“This responds to the need to ensure equality in the dress code for men and women. The way a child dresses is never expected to be blamed, ”Morse said.
Under the policy, students cannot wear hoods over their heads during classroom instruction, nor tubular tops. The hood restriction will not apply to headdresses and religious clothing.
At a committee meeting in June, board member Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) said he wanted the policy to limit students’ free speech as little as possible.
Morse brought forward a motion, seconded by John Beatty (Catoctin) to include bare bellies in prohibited clothing. Although the motion failed, Morse said he spoke to six female teachers who supported his position.
“This is not my attempt to shame the body or apply an unrealistic standard,” Morse said. “We are in an educational environment and we have to have a certain level of consistency.”
Morse called the policy very open and student-friendly.
Beatty decided to ban clothing containing profanity. This motion was carried 8-0.