The Joplin School District hopes to loosen dress requirements for employees by lifting a prohibition on some visible tattoos and body piercings.
The Board of Education on Tuesday will consider the second and final reading on a new policy for staff conduct that simply requires employees to "dress professionally and in a manner that will not interfere with the educational environment."
Current Joplin policy, which would be eliminated in its entirety if the new policy is adopted, specifies that "body piercings, other than in ears, should not be worn when performing one's duty as an employee in Joplin Schools. Acceptable earrings do not include gauge or plug-style earrings. Employees with tattoos shall cover the tattoo with clothing or by other appropriate means."
Superintendent Melinda Moss said the new policy would put Joplin on par with what other local school districts require of their employees when it comes to professional wear. Policies in Webb City, Neosho and Carthage, for example, all state generally that employees should either "dress in a professional manner" or "dress professionally," without prohibiting certain types of appearances. Even Springfield, one of the largest school districts in the state, has a similar policy.
"That simple language leaves it somewhat open to interpretation and our own professional judgment of what constitutes professional dress in our own climate and culture," she said. "The language that was in place was a lot more specific, and it really wasn't in keeping with current norms of society."
Moss said the district still will ensure that tattoos, in particular, are appropriate for a school setting if they are visible. A tattoo of a marijuana leaf, for example, would be required to be covered under the new policy, she said.
"As long as a tattoo is not inappropriate, we're finding that what's causing much more distraction is when our employees try to cover them," she said. "They're wearing a bandage, perhaps, and then people are wondering what happened."
'Uneasy' with old policy
The policy change has been reviewed by the board's policy committee and was approved on first reading by the full board last month. It was first brought to the district's attention by board Vice President Brent Jordan, who said he began to look more closely at the issue when he noticed a Joplin building engineer wearing a bandagelike arm sleeve to cover a tattoo.
"I had remembered reading our policy regarding this and feeling a bit uneasy at that time about its wording and restrictions," he said in an email to the Globe. "I started to facetiously wonder if there were other types of tattoos that were more 'acceptable' — perhaps an eternity tattoo around the ring finger, permanently tattooed eyebrows or eyeliner, even, and how our policy would address those situations."
Jordan said that as a board member, he didn't support the original policy, and he believed monitoring employees' tattoos and piercings was an "unwise use of resources." He first raised the issue with the board's policy committee last month.
"I think everyone wins with this" new policy, he said. "I'm especially excited for our staff members with tattoos or piercings. We still expect our staff to dress professionally, as the new policy indicates — I just think you can do both."
In other business Tuesday, the board will:
• Declare as surplus a variety of old office and classroom furnishings, antiquated food service equipment, books and other miscellaneous items. The items will be auctioned off at a later date.
• Consider the purchase of several items of equipment, totaling nearly $100,000, for Franklin Technology Center's HVAC/R program. Items slated for purchase include inverter heat and air units, refrigeration training systems and field tool sets.
Approximately $34,800 of the total cost will come from the school district's 2020 budget. The remaining amount will be paid by a grant from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.