School Climate & Safety

Calif. District Agrees To Allow Women To Wear Slacks

By Bess Keller — March 12, 1997 3 min read

For a year and a half, teacher Roxanne Pittman had asked to exercise a wardrobe option available to millions of American women every day. But until last week, school officials in her Southern California district skirted the issue she raised and continued to forbid pants on women teachers in three schools.

No longer. The Pomona Unified School District has agreed to suspend parts of the dress code at the three schools, allowing all female teachers and students the option of wearing slacks. The decision came after a settlement of Ms. Pittman’s lawsuit against the district late last month that allowed her to wear pants at Yorba Elementary School, where she teaches.

After the drawn-out trousers tussle, Ms. Pittman can now rest easy--as well as keep warm on the job, climb ladders to reach the top of bulletin boards without a second thought, and reduce her spending on hosiery.

“I couldn’t see a logical reason for the rule, and that added to how I felt about it,” she said. The 5th grade teacher added that because the California legislature in 1994 enacted a law guaranteeing women the right to wear pants in the workplace, she didn’t think her protest “would go this far.”

In the settlement, the 40,000-student district agreed to pay Ms. Pittman $10,000, plus lawyers’ fees.

‘Professional Attire’

The dress code Ms. Pittman challenged dates from the establishment in 1979 of three “fundamental” public schools, including Yorba Elementary, which subscribe to a back-to-basics philosophy.

Kim Pine, a spokeswoman for the Pomona district, said the schools originally emphasized strict discipline along with academic fundamentals, and a dress code requiring girls to wear skirts or dresses was part of that plan. Women teachers had also been required to wear skirts or dresses, while men teachers had to come to school in dress shirts, slacks, and ties.

In a statement following the settlement, the district said it was suspending the elements of the dress code applying to teachers. Instead, it expects that faculty members “will wear appropriate and professional attire.”

Officials for the 31,000-student district officials promised a review of the fundamental program as a whole, including dress codes for teachers and students. That review is expected to be completed by July 1.

Nancy McCracken, a Pomona school board member, said the decision to suspend rather than drop the dress code should not be seen as defending it. “The reason we are suspending it is it will give us an opportunity to hear from staff and parents and try to come up with something that is legally proper and meets the desires of staff and parents,” she said last week.

Parents from Yorba Elementary showed up at last week’s board meeting to support the dress codes for students and teachers.

New Protections Proposed

Ms. Pittman, who has taught for almost eight years and whose mother sat on the task force that designed the fundamental schools, said she took her protest first to Yorba’s principal, then to his supervisor.

When nothing happened, she went to her union, the Associated Pomona Teachers, and last July filed a lawsuit in state court, apparently the first under the 1994 law. The law says that public or private employers in California cannot bar workers from wearing pants because of their sex.

In February, Ms. Pittman turned down a settlement offer based on medical grounds that would have allowed her, but only her, to wear pants. She has lupus erythematosus, a chronic inflammatory disease that she says causes her to suffer from the cold.

Diane Martinez, the state assemblywoman who was the author of the pants law, said the trousers tussle has prompted her to draft two more bills.

One would punish agencies by taking away public funding if they break the law; the bill would also make agency board members personally liable for such a violation. The other proposal, known as “The Pants Bill, the Next Generation,” would keep anyone from disallowing pants on children without written parental consent.

Glenn Rothner, one of Ms. Pittman’s lawyers, called the outcome gratifying.

“If they come back and say we’re going to reinstitute the dress code as it has been, we’ll be back in court,” he said. “But I don’t think that is going to happen.”


Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Spotlight Spotlight on Safe Reopening
In this Spotlight, review how your district can strategically apply its funding, and how to help students safely bounce back, plus more.

School Climate & Safety Interactive Which Districts Have Cut School Policing Programs?
Which districts have taken steps to reduce their school policing programs or eliminate SRO positions? And what do those districts' demographics look like? Find out with Education Week's new interactive database.
A police officer walks down a hall inside a school
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (images: Michael Blann/Digital/Vision; Kristen Prahl/iStock/Getty Images Plus )
School Climate & Safety These Districts Defunded Their School Police. What Happened Next?
Six profiles of districts illustrate the tensions, successes, and concerns that have accompanied the changes they've made to their school police programs over the last year.
Deering High School in Portland, Maine, one of two schools to have their SROs removed.
Deering High School in Portland, Maine, one of two schools to have their SROs removed.
Ryan David Brown for Education Week
School Climate & Safety Defunded, Removed, and Put in Check: School Police a Year After George Floyd
Education Week has identified 40 school districts that defunded their police after last summer's Black Lives Matter protests.
Police officer outside of a school
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (image: Bastiaan Slabbers/iStock)