Oakville school board provides update on staff dress code following prosthetic breast controversy

A school board west of Toronto shared few details of a forthcoming staff dress code after a teacher wearing prosthetic breasts made international headlines last year.

Halton District School Board’s (HDSB) education director addressed the interim report on its new professionalism policy at a board meeting Wednesday night, but revealed little new info.

“We are making good progress in the development of this draft policy to be presented March 1,” HDSB Director of Education Curtis Ennis said. “I look forward to having that conversation, hearing from community and stakeholders, and determining our next steps.”

Ennis added that due to a current ‘statutory freeze’ as per the Ontario Labour Relations Act, employers are prohibited from altering working conditions for employees during a period when there is no governing collective agreement.

The board’s trustees ordered Ennis to develop the policy, which includes a dress code, after images of the Oakville Trafalgar High School teacher surfaced online in September in which the instructor was seen wearing large prosthetic breasts, which were covered by clothing.

Some parents raised concerns to the board about the teacher’s appearance in the weeks that followed and the province’s education minister even weighed in on the issue at one point, when he asked the Ontario College of Teachers to review their professional conduct provisions.

The school itself has been the target of nine bomb threats since the images first went viral, Halton police confirmed to CTV News Toronto, the last of which was called in overnight before Tuesday’s meeting.

The board had initially ordered Ennis to commission a report on a formal staff dress code, which suggested that introducing such a measure could produce “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,” Ennis, as well as Superintendent Sari Taha, wrote in the report at the time.

Rishi Bandhu is a lawyer and parent of a Grade 9 student at Oakville Trafalgar. He spoke as a delegate at Tuesday’s board meeting and has maintained that the issue, for him, is not about gender expression but professionalism in the classroom.

“There has to be standards of professionalism within our workplaces and particularly within a school, and so that’s the message we give to our children,” Bandhu told CTV News Toronto beforehand.

The full report on the board’s professionalism policy is expected to be released in March.

In the meantime, Julia Malott, who also spoke as a delegate Tuesday, said she hopes that any rules rolled out by the board are inclusive of transgender people.

“I have a daughter, and if she was in the classroom and the teacher was wearing something that was very sexualized, it would be, at minimum, very distracting and possibly quite more, and in the particular case of Halton, we have seen that,” she said.

Ennis added that school councils and members of the public will be given a chance to voice their opinions on the forthcoming policy at a later date. 

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