"Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined" is the slogan for Hooters, the restaurant chain known for busty waitresses in skimpy orange shorts. But after a Pinellas County parent found out that a Hooters waitress had addressed her son's school for the Great American Teach-In, other words came to her mind … inappropriate … stunning …
The waitress — dressed in sweatpants and a sweater — spoke to students about her job Thursday at the Calvin A. Hunsinger School, a K-12 public school in Clearwater that serves 130 students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.
The school had few other speakers.
"It's just the wrong message," said Ashley Dominicci, 32, a paralegal whose son is a sixth-grader. "I feel like we're telling them (the students) that you're the bad kids, and this is all you'll be in life.
"I'm not knocking waitresses. They're very hard-working," Dominicci said. "My point is, these kids should have higher goals."
The school's principal, Stephanie Bessette, did not return a call. But in an email to Dominicci, she noted that some aspiring teachers work as waitresses to pay for college, and other teachers do so to supplement their incomes.
"Working as a waiter or waitress in order to achieve higher goals should be commended," Bessette wrote.
The waitress, Brittany Morgan, 23, said she understands why the mom is upset and respects her opinion.
"But I'm confident there was nothing wrong with my presentation," she said. "Most of us (Hooters waitresses) are going to school. We're aspiring to do other things in life. This isn't our career."
In her complaint to the principal, Dominicci referenced a controversy in California involving a former adult film star who was invited this month to read to students at an elementary school.
The district received no other complaints.
The Great American Teach-In is a popular annual event during which parents, community members and other guest speakers talk to students about their careers and hobbies. The St. Petersburg Times featured a story Friday about a four-star Army general who spoke at a Pasco County elementary school about life in the military.
Past speakers at schools have included everyone from archeologists and African drummers to beat cops and Bucs players.
Recruiting is typically left to individual schools. The district said Hunsinger has a tough time finding speakers.
This year, the school's media specialist told the volunteer coordinator she has two daughters who are Hooters waitresses and that many waitresses with the company are working to pay for college. The volunteer coordinator called the Hooters corporate office in Clearwater to see whether a waitress would be willing to speak.
"We thought it was a great idea," said Leah Ramker, Tampa Bay marketing director for Hooters Management Corp. "Anyone can be inspiring, no matter what their job is."
Morgan, a Pennsylvania native, moved to Pinellas four years ago. She works at the original Hooters in Clearwater. She said she plans to enroll in St. Petersburg College next month and study psychology.
She said she talked to Hunsinger students about looking presentable on the job and the good works that Hooters does for the community and charity.
"I stress to the children … how great our company is," she said. "They give an opportunity to us young women."
The district said Morgan also told students how to order from a menu and properly tip. Dominicci said her son told her the waitress talked about the legal drinking age and noted that waitresses "should wear clean shoes."
"Why couldn't they send someone from the corporate office?" she asked.
The school had five other speakers, including three who are Hunsinger teachers. A Toyota employee discussed electric cars. A parent talked about his job as a machinist.
Different grade levels heard from different speakers. The middle school students heard from the waitress and the machinist and saw a presentation from a wrestling coach.
Dominicci said she could have rounded up more speakers if she had known that the school needed help.
"I can think of 10 professional friends off the top of my head that would have volunteered," she said in an email to the Times.
Interim superintendent John Stewart said being a waitress is "an honorable way to make a living." (He said he worked as a soda jerk, for 50 cents an hour, between high school and college.) But he also said the district needed to bring a more diverse group of speakers to Hunsinger.
"Trust me, it will in ensuing years," he said.
Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8873.