La - posted on 03/19/2010 ( 54 moms have responded )
Tattooed teacher says ban is misguided
By Di Lewis (Standard-Examiner staff)
Last Edit: Mar 7 2010 - 11:27pm
OGDEN -- A new Ogden City School District prohibition of visible tattoos on staff members has Mark Johnson concerned the rule is unwarranted.
Johnson, an English teacher, has worked at Ogden High School for 15 years with tattoos that are visible when he wears a short-sleeved shirt. He also got a sleeve tattooed on his right forearm last year as a tribute to his wife and children.
Superintendent Noel Zabriskie said the ban on visible tattoos during work hours or school functions is part of a larger dress code that went into place in January after months of consideration.
It is not a board-approved policy.
The goal of the new dress expectations is to encourage employees to project a more professional image, he said.
While Johnson said he can appreciate the intent of wanting a businesslike image, he doesn't think a carbon-copy staff is necessary to achieve that.
"Covering up, to me, is burying and keeping the stigma of tattooed people alive," he said. "The goal of education should be to open, not to shut, minds."
While Johnson hoped he could be exempt from the rule because he was hired with the tattoos, Zabriskie said the district's legal counsel advised him to be consistent in applying the procedure.
Johnson said he has never heard complaints from students or co-workers about his tattoos.
"I think one of the goals of education is to open people's minds and my arm opens up more conversations with my students than anything else I do about who you are and what they mean," he said.
After disciplinary action was begun against him, Johnson said he has covered up for now, but hopes the district will reconsider or he may try to move schools.
A move would be a big loss to Ogden High, said Lisa Arango, Johnson's wife.
She said he is the only teacher of color in the school and students need to see good role models like her husband.
She said none of his tattoos are offensive, with no naked women or curse words, and her problem is the school seems to not be able to acknowledge his individual merits.
Johnson said he would understand if there were a policy to prohibit offensive tattoos, but an across-the-board ban isn't the way to go.
"I just basically think it's misguided," Johnson said. "They're trying to make a change, but I don't think that's where you start."
So I've had debates about tattoos in the workplace already, and I still can't understand why some people are still so closed minded about the whole issue. We live in a society where we preach that "everyone's differences should be tolerated" and we set up laws about discrimination to protect both born characteristics AND chosen traits...you can be any religion, race, sexual identity, gender, size, etc but god forbid you have visible (non-offensive) tattoos. I fail to see how having tattoos can effect any person's work ethic or intelligence.
Most common argument I get: "Tattoos generally offend or make the older population uncomfortable..." I've heard plenty of the "older population" speak derogatorily about minorities and homosexuals too but we don't say "you can't work here if you are black or gay because some older people aren't comfortable with that either."
Another argument I hear: "Well tattoos are considered modifiable factors of one's identity because you CHOSE to get them so if you don't like the discrimination that comes with it then don't get them or you can cover them up." Well that's not a fair statement either. That's like saying to a gay person "I'm going to discriminate against you based on your homosexual actions and if you don't like it then don't act upon your born desires." They are born with a preference or attraction to the same sex and can choose whether or not to act upon those desires (because we have all heard of homosexuals who chose to have heterosexual marriages and mainstream families) just as a tattooed person is born with a preference or attraction to tattoos and can choose whether or not to act upon the desire to get visible tattoos themselves. Or what about a person's weight? We can't discriminate against a person for their weight, even though weight is a modifiable factor of a person's identity. We can't tell an obese person that we won't hire them unless they lose weight because we find their appearance "offensive", but we tell tattooed people to cover up their "offensive" appearance or we won't hire them.
I've even had people say that "employers making policies against tattoos in their dress code is within their rights just as it is within their rights to make wearing a uniform part of their dress code." The difference here is that my tattoos are part of my skin-they are permanent...clothes are not permanent. I can change clothes to wear a uniform and still be an identifiable member of that company without having to cover my tattoos. If you wanted to discriminate against a minority you couldn't tell them that part of the company dress code prohibits dark complexions so they have to cover up the permanent look of their skin. Tattoos are just as permanent as one's skin color . It doesn't matter that you chose to get the tattoos (and one cannot choose the color of their skin) what matters is that once you have the tattoos they are just as permanent. To say that you can "laser the tattoos off" is just as ridiculous and painful as telling someone they can go bleach their skin.
I'm in no way saying that it's ok to discriminate against any of the groups listed in the examples I gave here. I just feel that it is unfair to have tolerance and discrimination laws that don't protect certain groups when there is no good reason that people with tattoos should be treated differently. I fail to see how tattoos take away from a person any more than dyeing one's hair, having gastric bypass surgery, or getting a boob job would take away from a person.