Teachers in jeans

Wear jeans, go to jail? In upstate New York, the superintendent called in a sheriff’s deputy to remove two teachers from their classrooms because they’d defied a ban on blue jeans.

After a week of contentious debate over “dress down days,” Robert L. Nyitrai and Michael Huttner, teachers in the Starpoint Central School District, were escorted from their morning classes Friday. Both Superintendent Douglas C. Whelan and the teachers, leaders of the Starpoint Teachers Association, point to long-stalled contract talks as the underlying cause.

Both the teachers are union leaders. The superintendent says the teachers are in violation of the contract. He’d sent a memo asking teachers not to wear jeans, T-shirts or other casual clothing.

Both Nyitrai and Huttner wore jeans to their classrooms on Thursday, and were reprimanded by their respective principals, according to both sides.

Nyitrai said that other teachers planned to wear jeans on Fridays in protest of their discipline. At scheduled contract negotiation talks Thursday night, Whelan and district negotiators asked that teachers refrain from “dressing down,” to which Nyitrai said union representatives agreed, but not until Monday, as teachers had already made plans for Friday. Both Nyitrai and Huttner wore jeans to class on Friday, and Huttner sent an e-mail to all Starpoint teachers.

“Well, it’s after homeroom and into first period. I’m still here!” Huttner wrote in an e-mail obtained by the News. “And, I must admit — looking very stylish in my blue jeans.”

A staffer showed the e-mail to the superintendent, who called in the sheriff.

It’s too bad no students were interviewed for the story. They must have zero respect for their teachers and principals at this point. The adults are more juvenile than the juveniles.

About Joanne


  1. Humphrey Bogus says:

    Since when are local sheriffs in the business of enforcing in-school rules outlined in memos? Do the cops come to local businesses when someone wears flip-flops on casual day?

  2. Richard Rybarczyk says:

    Trivia: Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh attended school in the Starpoint Central School District.

  3. christina says:

    Great use of law enforcement officer’s time! Instead of tracking down drug dealers and murderers, they are hauling away the most hardened of all criminals. 😉 Honestly, if my husband was called out for this (he’s a deputy) he would probably give the superintendent and the teachers a piece of his mind. Joanne, you are right-on with your summation. The adults are acting like children.

  4. Doug Sundseth says:

    The teachers were told not to come to school while wearing blue jeans. By the sound of the article, the superintendant didn’t take any action until one of the removed teachers bragged about getting away with breaking the rules. When confronted with a teacher flouting the rules in such a public way, the superintendant called the police to remove them as trespassers.

    How would teachers have reacted to a similar set of actions by students? Children who violate a school’s dress code are directed to change clothes. If they refuse, they are sent home. If they cause problems while leaving, they are escorted from the premises by the police or school security personnel.

    From the referenced article, the union/school relationship has been particularly acrimonious. Depending on how the last 1100 days of negotiations has gone, the superintendant might have chosen the best available course of action to reduce the possibility of even more trouble.

    I also found Michael Huttner’s comment, “To pull the union president and grievance chair out when almost every other teacher is wearing jeans seems pretty suspect”, pretty entertaining. Singling out the ringleaders for action? I’m sure no teacher would ever do that to students.

    At any rate, it isn’t especially smart to flagrantly break explicit rules and then confront your boss with your actions. Had they had real jobs, the teachers would probably have been terminated on the spot.

  5. Unless wearing jeans in a public school is against city/county/state/federal law, the cops have no business being involved…

  6. Jim Thomason says:

    While I’m not normally on the school administrator’s side (though, then again I’m not often on the teacher’s side very often either), I have to agree with Whelan.

    The contract seems to be on his side. The teachers are not supposed to be wearing certain types of clothing. Whelan gave them the courtesy of sending out an E-mail that week notifying them that the policy would be enforced (I’m assuming that it had been ignored previously). They defied him and were only given a warning. They defied him again the very next day and, as Whelan said, tried to rub it in.

    While I agree that having the police remove them rather than having the principle do so is a bit much, but that’s the only criticism I have for Whelan. This is a good lesson for the students too – don’t needlessly antagonize your employer.

    While I don’t agree with the characterization of the administration as being juvenile, it is an apt description of the teachers. Just look at some of the idiotic things they were saying.

    1. Stating that Whelan’s insistence on following a contract stipulation “trying to provoke something”. No, by ignoring Whelan’s memo and subsequent warning, the TEACHERS were “trying to provoke something”. And they succeeded. Whining when the forseeable consequences of your actions come about is quite juvenile.

    2. Saying on Thursday night that they would abide by the contract, but only starting Monday because they “had already made plans for Friday” is a pathetically trasparent excuse. It sounds like the type of thing a teenager would say (if they had not already grown out of it).

    3. The language of the E-mail. Pathetic again.

    PS. Exactly how does “dressing down” somehow “raise money” for scholarships? Magic?

  7. Rita C. says:

    I’m not sure why they would agree to a dress code in their contract — that’s more of a school climate issue — but if they agreed, they agreed. If the dress down day was a fundraiser for scholarships (many corporations do this — you pay a fee for the right to wear jeans, and the fee goes to the charity), then it would seem the administration would support such an effort and would have cleared it beforehand. So, when a situation defies logic, you have to assume that there are other agendas involved. It looks like a power play of some sort to me. I think political maneuvering is almost always LCD and brings out the worst in people. They’re off track. The focus is power and not the job. I’m sure the blame for the situation can be spread pretty wide and thick.

    Teaching is a real job. I spent today dealing with 147 16-year-olds. I’m not sure you’d even want to do that if you could. PS: I wore a skirt and blouse today.

  8. Mad Scientist says:


    Most of the schools in this area (I’m from south of Buffalo; this district is just north of Buffalo) require teachers to dress like the professionals they are. It is part of the contract. And since this is still a fairly conservative area (much unlike the NYC area), it is an accepted practice.

    “Dress Down” days are usually limited to 1 or 2 days per month. Even the Catholic school where my wife teaches has these, and the kids even pay for a day to wear jeans. However, the school does reserve the right to limit the clothing to “appropriate” (i.e. no low-riders, no exposed navels, etc. [I wonder why they would have to spell this out for an all-girls school, but I digress]).

    This was a pure act of defiance by these two union leaders (who were acting like the students they are supposed to be role models for). They were told of the consequences if they defied and chose defiance.

    All of this comes down to the bitter contract negotiations, and I am sure these “professionals” (I use quotes because of their bad behavior) have done more than this one simple act.

    Calling in the police? It happens even in industry, especially if the individual in question has a well documented temper. I have seen people escorted out of buildings by security when they were laid off or resigned. When they had a mass layoff at Hercules in 1995 (I believe) the company had Delaware State Troopers at the gates “just in case”.

    In general, it is better to have a show of force to prevent a violent incident than to not be prepared and actually have one.

  9. Walter Wallis says:

    A disobediance to the contract should have triggered the grievance proceedure, not a cop call.
    How about immediate verbal notice os suspension, an order to leave the premises and summary discharge for failure to follow lawful proceedures?
    Call the cops only if the teacher pulls a gun to avoid ouster. Then shoot the teacher and the principal both.

  10. Anonymous says:

    “(…[I wonder why they would have to spell this out for an all-girls school, but I digress]).”
    –Mad Scientist

    Because girls dress to impress other girls just as much, if not more, than to impress boys. There is the attracting a man motive and the breaking down the confidence of the rivals motive behind all “fashionable” teenage girls’ clothing. Forgive my further digression.

  11. Mad Scientist says:


    First, the administration (i.e., management) does not file a grievance. That is the purvue of the people under the contract.

    Second, they were were given an immediate warning the previous day.

    Third, summary discharge is not an option in most contracts, unless there is some gross violation. This does not rise to it.

    I bet the principal had just about too mich crap from these guys and the cops were called to send the message “don’t screw with me”.

  12. Mark Odell says:

    Mad Scientist wrote: especially if the individual in question has a well documented temper.

    A “temper”, or merely a spine (misinterpreted as being the former by those uncomfortable with the latter)?

    Better complaint than apathy.

    When they had a mass layoff at Hercules in 1995 (I believe) the company had Delaware State Troopers at the gates “just in case”.

    “Just in case” what? In case the “managers” discovered they had pushed too far the rams among the sheep?

    In general, it is better to have a show of force to prevent a violent incident than to not be prepared and actually have one.

    FYI, the “show of force” is the violent incident.

    Would it be impertinence to suggest that employers wishing to avoid all this unpleasantness simply start treating their employees straight-up, fair-and-square (I might suggest the Golden Rule as a starting point) in the first place?

    I bet the principal had just about too mich crap from these guys and the cops were called to send the message “don’t screw with me”.

    Little tin gods can’t manage to fight their own battles, so they call in JBTs as hired muscle? Might makes right? Who’d of thunk it?

  13. Mad Scientist says:


    You really have a problem with anger. I just love how you feel it necessary to deconstruct every sentence I post. What a childish way to debate.

    You have obviously never worked in industry at any point in your career. Have you ever heard of violence at post offices? How about a disgruntled ex-employee re-entering an office building and shooting at random? Yeah, that shows a lot of spine!

    “Just in case” means “Just in case there was some sort of violent reaction such as a riot or brawl”. I hope that I have decoded that for you.

    And a “show of force” is not “violence”. Having armed guards on airplanes I guess is “violence” in your warped interpretation of the world. Or how about armored car guards? They carry guns and show force. I bet they too are being violent. I guess police pulling traffic offenders are also “JBT”s (that code for “Jack Booted Thugs” for you who did not get that snide comment).

    How about you get your head out of the sand? Or you ass? Same thing.

  14. Walter Wallis says:

    I was sitting on grievance committees before most of you were sitting on potty chairs. What would you call the process whereby the management lets the union know they object to a union action, and where would that complaint be initially discussed? In a grievance.
    I suspect that the rare action of summary dismissal is a level less than calling the cops, and that calling the cops on a contract violation might get you charged for false arrest.
    Nope, no retreat from my position.