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Ontario school board releases professionalism policy after photos of teacher with prosthetic breasts surfaced

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A draft of Halton District School Board's (HDSB) much-anticipated professionalism policy has been released, and it does not contain any specifics on a staff dress code – something that many parents have requested to be implemented after photos of a teacher wearing prosthetic breasts went viral last year.

The draft was attached to the HDSB's board meeting agenda released Friday afternoon.

Under the policy's objectives, it said its purpose "is to consolidate and affirm existing expectations regarding staff professionalism, including dress and decorum, at board and school settings and at school-based activities, focusing on the importance of demonstrating, through personal presentation, respect for public education and each student's right to learn in a safe, inclusive and accepting environment."

The second component of the policy, titled “Guiding Principles”, brings up how teachers are expected to conduct themselves and their role to ensure safe student learning as well as what constitutes professional misconduct based on board policies and procedures, the Ontario College of Teachers, Supreme Court of Canada ruling and Ministry of Education standards.

But nothing new is included in the two-page draft, and there is no mention of details about a dress code for HDSB's over 10,000 staff.

Frustrated parents have asked the board to impose a dress code on its employees since the photos of the Oakville Trafalgar High School teacher with large prosthetic breasts, which were covered by clothing, surfaced online last September.

A teacher at Oakville Trafalgar High School is seen in this undated image.

As of last week, the school had been the target of nine bomb threats due to the matter, Halton police confirmed to CTV News Toronto.

The director of education was hesitant to impose a staff dress policy, stating in a report last November that it would present a "considerable liability."

However, in January, the board passed a motion directing the director to develop a professionalism policy outlining the HDSB's expectations of all employees, including appropriate and professional standards of dress and decorum in the classroom.

An interim report was presented to parents last week.

The same day the draft was publicly released, the board sent an electronic survey to parents, students and other HDSB stakeholders to get their feedback, including if the policy met their expectations.

They have until March 12 to send their responses.

“Please keep in mind that policies are meant to outline a framework and guiding principles. Following the development of a policy, directives are generally created and shared with schools,” the board said in a letter to parents informing them about the survey.

HDSB noted that it is in negotiations with unions and it cannot legally implement changes to staff working conditions until bargaining agreements have been ratified.

“The HDSB strives to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all students, staff and the community. Our commitment to human rights remains rooted in our core values and commitment to each and every student and staff who identifies as a member of an underserved and underrepresented group, and our approach is informed by opinions from leading employment law firms with human rights and equity advisors. This commitment and approach will continue to be applied as the HDSB looks to fulfill this motion,” the board added.

After the photos came to light, Education Minister Stephen Lecce ordered the Ontario College of Teachers to review professional conduct provisions. Earlier this week, in an interview with the Toronto Star, Lecce criticized HDSB for its handling of the matter.

-- with files from Katherine DeClerq and Phil Tsekouras

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