Captain Underpants

Forget all about if a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound if no one is around to hear it?

The new philosophical question is: If a Casa Grande elementary school teacher doesn’t wear any underwear, does it show?

This week the Casa Grande Elementary School District Governing Board tackled that tough question while giving feedback in a study session on a proposed dress code for teachers.

Anytime you try and come up with an employee dress code, in either the public or private sector, it is like herding cats. You can end up going in all sorts of directions.

And one of those directions at Tuesday’s discussions has a zipper clause.

School board President Judee Jackson noted the bare facts of the matter when she mentioned that the current dress code says undergarments may not be visible.

“Do we need to say undergarments must be worn?” Jackson asked of the board.

Staff Writer Rodney Haas noted in his reporting that the board erupted in laughter at the question of teachers going commando, but Jackson was serious about skivvies.

“I recently met with 15 HR (human resources) leaders from major organizations in Pinal County including the hospital, Harrah’s Ak-Chin, several cities and the county. Every one of them said: ‘Oh, my gosh. The people that we are hiring. These are the things that we are having to say. You have to take a shower. You have to brush your teeth. You have to comb your hair.’ I would think in some cases saying that your undergarments are not visible, but if you are not wearing (any), then they aren’t. So then they would be complying with that element. So how would you enforce that?”

Administrators suggested that the district could talk with attorneys to see about getting the language clarified.

When you need to consult lawyers, then your dress code goes too far. I guess they could prepare a legal brief on requiring undergarments.

Twenty years ago I had the unlucky task of serving on a committee to adopt a dress code for employees at a newspaper. The debate turned to skirt length and just how many inches should separate the hem of a dress from the top of the knee. I interjected I wasn’t about to carry a ruler around the newsroom and call out women I thought were in violation of the dress code, say by one inch.

Even though I had no skin in the game, I could see that was a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen.

In the end we adopted an open-ended dress code that simply stated employees will dress professionally and not in a way that interferes with their ability to do their job. And that could deviate on a case-by-case basis, especially for journalists.

A photographer, say, trekking through the woods on a wildlife assignment isn’t going to be required to wear the same clothing as, say, to an assignment covering the funeral of a public figure. And if they did wear the same clothing for both, it would hinder their ability to do the job. A scruffy photographer at a somber event will generate stares and distract from getting a usable photo of the event.

CGESD Superintendent JoEtta Gonzales was right to try and steer the board toward a more workable dress code.

“The whole idea here is modest and professional attire is expected,” Gonzales said. “That whole notion around modest, we could define that for hours or we could have an expectation for modest and professional attire and when we don’t believe it’s modest, then we can address it individually.”

As for underwear, there is only one question that needs to be asked: Boxers or briefs?

Because we know better teachers wear boxers. I think there was research on that.


Andy Howell can be reached at