An Ontario school board says it would likely be a “liability” to impose a dress code after images circulated online of a teacher wearing large prosthetic breasts in a classroom.
The review was requested in September after photos of an employee, reportedly from Oakville Trafalgar High School, were shared widely on social media.
In the photos, the individual is wearing large prosthetic breasts, which are covered by clothing, while standing with students.
The Halton District School Board (HDSB) has not provided any context for the photos, saying only that it’s a “personnel matter.”
The report, which was presented to the board this week, says implementing a formal dress code for staff would present a “considerable liability.”
“Even if a dress code is implemented for non-discriminatory reasons, it would likely be found to be discriminatory where it adversely affects an employee or group of employees on the basis of their Code-protected grounds,” Superintendent Sari Taha and Director of Education Curtis Ennis wrote in the report.
“Finally, and most importantly, we note that if the employer desires to foster a culture of professionalism, respect, equity and inclusion, a truly reasonable and non-discriminatory dress code or grooming standards would most likely fail to yield the intended results.”
The report also notes if the HDSB were to implement a dress code, it would have to be prepared to establish that any “sex-linked differences” are “bona fide occupational requirements” or they risk being found discriminatory.
Taha and Ennis also say policies should be neutral as to allow employees to express themselves in accordance with their lived gender.
“Dress code and grooming requirements which provide insufficient latitude for employees to comply with religious tenets and beliefs, or which result in differential treatment will generally be found to be discriminatory, and thus, unenforceable,” the report says.
“Policies which impose different grooming standards on men and women, or which place additional burdens on members of one gender, will quite often be deemed unenforceable.”
The review comes a little over a month after Ontario’s education minister asked the Ontario College of Teachers to review professional conduct provisions in relation to the photos.
Stephen Lecce told reporters in September that while the province celebrates differences, it also believes “there must be the highest standards of professionalism in front of our kids.”
“On that basis, I’ve asked the Ontario College of Teachers to review and to consider strengthening those provisions with respect to professional conduct, which we think would be in the interest of all kids in Ontario.”
The Ontario College of Teachers is an entity that licenses, governs and regulates the teaching profession. According to its website, they have the ability to issue, suspend and revoke teaching certificates, set ethical standards of practice, and investigate complaints about members.