The recent letter regarding the Horry County school district's recent decision to ban visible tattoos reminded me of inconsistencies that appeared several weeks ago, to which I believe a response is needed. I am surprised that neither the school district, the school board nor the superintendent has stepped up to do so.
The new employee dress code was distributed in June, and the principals were instructed to enforce it as policy. Immediately, one teacher requested clarification of the ban on tattoos. The request was first sent to the school's principal, thereafter to the Teachers' Cabinet, and then to numerous members of the district staff, each of which failed to answer the teacher's questions. This teacher did not challenge the guidelines and did not refuse to comply with them, but has merely asked what prompted the ban, who participated in the decision making, what information was considered, whether any administrative review had been conducted, and what consideration was given regarding retroactivity.
In August, this teacher met with the principal and district staff members, during which the district staff stated that the guidelines were mandatory, and should this teacher have difficulty complying with them, then the teacher should seek alternate employment. The district staff also stated that this teacher was not entitled to the names of the decision makers, and that minutes of meetings by those persons did not exist. Most shockingly, the district staff stated that, in the district's opinion, tattoos are "unprofessional."
Left with nothing but a "take it or leave it" response, the teacher was forced to address the issue with the school board and superintendent at the Aug. 23 board meeting. Superintendent Cindy Elsberry stated that the revisions were merely "guidelines," and while the district hoped the teachers would "buy into" those guidelines, they were not enforceable against those who did not comply. Despite those statements, no announcements or clarifications have been distributed to the principals, teachers and clearly not the district office, as is evident by the Sept. 15 article on the subject. In that article, the district's spokeswoman stated that the revisions are mandatory, and that principals have been charged with enforcement of those revisions; this is directly contradictory to Elsberry's comments. The district's chief academic officer implied the ban on visible tattoos is due to Horry County's desire to be a top educational system, which leads to the conclusion that the district believes tattooed employees somehow prevent the school system from being one.
The apparent lack of structure in the process to revise a districtwide policy, the district's disjointed response to this teacher's questions, and the failure by the school system to respond to a clear misunderstanding by their employees are of great importance to me; however, I am most concerned with the district's apparent attempts to violate the personal rights of our teachers, which will likely create more distractions in our children's classrooms rather than fewer.
Requiring that a teacher conceal body art, which has been equated, in many legal forums, as a form of free speech, through the use of alternate clothing, expensive makeup or awkward bandaging not only infringes on that teacher's personal rights and freedom of speech, but also presents an unreasonable disruption in class. In addition, such explanation can only serve to undermine the teacher's authority, considering the district's opinions that such individuals are unprofessional and not representative of a top educational system.
Therefore, I urge the district to issue a statement regarding the new guidelines that can be shared with parents, students and teachers, and to specifically address visible tattoos, as they are the only enumerated "unacceptable attire" for which its tattooed employees have no choice. Unlike tennis shoes, shorts, sweat pants and piercings, tattoos can't be removed, or replaced by an alternate form of dress. This blatant distinction and discrepancy, and possible infringement of personal rights and freedoms, needs to be addressed.
The writer lives in Myrtle Beach.