Warning – Potential Offensive Content
We apologize in advance for the content here. The purpose is to advise on risk management issues your agency may face.
A high school teacher in Canada has received much media attention for her decision to wear attire some consider to be questionable while teaching. Kayla Lemieux of Oakville Trafalgar High School in Ontario is a machine shop instructor transitioning from a man to a woman. Recently, she chose to wear oversized prosthetic breasts and tight clothing, including a top that allowed her nipples to protrude visibly. Some of her students took videos and pictures of her teaching and posted them online, leading to a firestorm of commentary, both for and against the teacher’s actions. The Halton District School Board has come out in support of Lemieux.
Rising Sexuality in Society
Some may look at this from a societal or political perspective, but it’s my job to look at it as a risk manager. And this situation presents some potential issues from both a safety and a human resources viewpoint. I am not exactly sure when the mindset shifted toward outright sexualization of nearly every aspect of society. But it appears we are losing the protections provided under AB 1825, especially for students of all ages. It’s incredible that we have laws on the books governing sexual harassment and require mandated reporter training using child abuse pictures. Yet, we are so cavalier about the potential impact of transitioning adults in and around schools. If someone is choosing to transition, that is their personal choice. However, special considerations need to be made for when that individual works in an occupation around children. It requires tact and caution.
Before I dive into that, though, I should touch upon some very serious, straightforward safety issues. The teacher in Canada is a machine shop instructor. I became immediately concerned for her safety and that of her students when I saw images and video recording her teaching in the shop. I have captured a few of these images and highlighted some areas to review. We have Cal OSHA regulations and other safety guidelines that require safeguards when working around moving equipment.
Watch the video
Safety In The Shop
The video of the shop teacher shows her using a table saw in front of her students. She has extremely long hair that is not tied back and is left hanging near moving equipment. Her prosthetic breasts also come very close to the saw blade. She is not wearing safety glasses to protect from flying projectiles off the blade edge. She is dressed in spandex bicycle shorts, leaving most of her legs exposed and unprotected. She wears regular tennis shoes when she should be wearing non-slip footwear. Additionally, the table saw is not bolted to hold it in place. Some of these safety issues will be a problem for anyone, such as the table saw not being bolted down or the lack of safety glasses or non-slip shoes. But the prosthetic breast piece and the exposed legs are direct consequences of the teacher’s decision to advertise her choicer to transition.
Human Resources and the Dress Code
Beyond the matter of safety in the classroom, there is the dress code. I see this in all aspects of life today in the United States. Whether you go to a fancy restaurant or the Pantages Theater, you will still likely see people in flip-flops and shorts. It speaks to the level of deportment in our society now. Dress codes are a bit looser. That is not the case in most school districts, however. Dress codes are not only a concern of presentation and image but also of safety, especially in a machine shop. These safety regulations are there for a reason.
In this situation, the students have a clearly defined dress code at Oakville Trafalgar. It was available online, and I reviewed it. The staff dress code was not available. It seems unlikely to me, though, that the dress code for teachers will be less stringent than for the students. The student dress code specifically prohibits protruding erogenous zones, such as nipples or visible genitalia. What does it say that this attire is defined as not allowed to students, but then a teacher shows up violating that same standard and boldly to boot? This is a double standard, and that is true whether the staffer is a man, a woman, or in transition. For students, it can be not very clear about what is and is not allowed.
An Environment for Education
We think of high school students as understanding and capable of sexual activity. But this is also when students are often uncertain about who they are and whom they will become. They’re still trying to get a handle on life in general. This group has recently become obsessed with safe spaces, and their egos are fragile. And a lot of younger students aren’t performing sexual activities. It’s paramount that we consider this with respect to the dress code and the conduct of behavior around sexuality.
Lemieux is placing her choice to transition over the education of her students. Many students have not returned to her classroom, so they miss out on their education. Others have expressed some lack of comfort with the situation, and the missing students are further evidence of that. This could very well qualify as a toxic work environment. Most have been supportive of Lemieux, but it is clear that not everyone is on board. We don’t think anything is wrong with transitioning, but there is a time and a place. If you’re a teacher, you must put the needs of the students over your own, at least within the school space. Opt for a less obtrusive breast prosthetic. Wear proper, professional clothing. Follow safety guidelines. These suggestions are simple and easy to follow.
The Job Before You
If you’re in risk management, you must enforce your dress codes. You also must require your mandated reporter training and be diligent in investigating actual reports of sexual abuse. The sexual exploitation of minors includes exposing them to sexual material. It is arguably doing so to use prosthetics to dress up exaggeratedly, particularly in tight, body-revealing attire. While society may be moving to more and more overt displays of sexuality, we’re not there yet in schools—and we shouldn’t be.