Nearly 100 teachers at Mount Vernon Middle School met with Los Angeles Unified School District officials to protest what they call a "loyalty oath," a dress code and other changes mandated at certain troubled campuses.
The measures, which vary by campus, are intended to help reform 10 of the district's lowest-performing schools.
Under a "staff commitment form" created by the district for Mount Vernon, male teachers will be required to wear ties and slacks; women who wear dresses must wear pantyhose. No jeans or athletic shoes will be allowed.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 2, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Teacher dress code: A story in Wednesday's California section about a teacher protest at Mount Vernon Middle School left out the name of one of the 10 schools targeted by district reforms prompted by a state audit: John C. Fremont High School.
If teachers refuse to abide by these and other requirements on the form, they must apply for transfer to another campus. They will not be terminated.
"I like it here, I love the kids. But I am not going to sign that form," said Doug Brouillard, 34, a teacher who prefers to wear tennis shoes, jeans and an Oxford shirt to work. "They're going to make me follow some pre-prescribed form that worked at some other school? What I do works."
But Supt. Roy Romer said the new rules on attire are meant to bring a sense of professionalism to the campuses.
"If you are a teacher and you don't want to do it, you are welcome to go elsewhere," Romer said in an interview at district headquarters. "We're trying to salvage schools that are failing. We're trying to do something for the children."
At Mount Vernon, the district is also requiring staff members to be open to experimenting with or changing teaching methods, to communicate with students' parents, to maintain high energy and to attend all mandated staff development sessions.
"We're going to stay the course," Theodore Alexander, an associate superintendent for the district, told teachers Tuesday after the tense meeting at Mount Vernon. "For those of you who do not wish to stay, I am sorry."
Afterward, nearly 50 teachers wearing United Teachers-Los Angeles T-shirts marched around the schoolyard to protest the ultimatum.
Teachers also took issue with reforms that would change Mount Vernon's schedule. They complained that the school district did not prepare students and their families for a switch from a year-round schedule to a more traditional calendar. The teachers said there are not enough options available for summer school.
Mount Vernon is one of 10 Los Angeles Unified schools that state auditors found had failed to improve test scores despite four years of warnings. The audit prompted the district to step in with an aggressive reform plan.
At some campuses, staff members have been removed or transferred. Mount Vernon's principal was replaced two months ago.
Other targeted schools include Avalon Gardens Elementary School; Gompers, Horace Mann and Sun Valley middle schools; and Jefferson, Locke, Roosevelt and Wilson high schools.
At each school, staff have been required to sign commitment letters spelling out guidelines they must follow.
John Perez, president-elect of the teachers union, said many teachers have taken issue with signing such commitment letters. At Roosevelt High, for example, all 250 teachers have refused to sign, he said.
"Why are they hung up on this loyalty oath?" Perez asked. "They're wasting energy and time doing it."
"Where does it stop?" asked Wil Adams, a teacher at Roosevelt who attended the Mount Vernon protest.
Lissa Washington, a teacher at Mount Vernon, wore brown open-toe sandals and a woven silk Egyptian dress Tuesday, with no pantyhose. She does not think a dress code is fair.
"Wearing pantyhose, or any kind of hose, has nothing to do with academic achievement," she said.
"How are we supposed to be on our feet all day long, interacting with children, if we can't wear tennis shoes?" another teacher asked.
Alexander agreed that different attire does not make teachers more effective, but he emphasized that they are supposed to be role models. He added that teachers will have until June to make up their minds about whether they will sign the forms.