I-TEAM: 96% of St. Johns County dress code violations isolated to 4 schools

Records show vast majority of violations still going to female students

The News4JAX I-TEAM obtained new records on dress code violations in St. Johns County schools.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM obtained new records on dress code violations in St. Johns County schools.

Based on the records that the I-TEAM acquired Wednesday, when it comes to how the St. Johns County School District is enforcing its dress code policy, it appears to be very inconsistent from school to school. The I-TEAM also learned from the records that the vast majority of these violations are still going to female students.

This follows a recent overhaul to the dress code policy after many complained it was unfair to girls. It also prompted a federal Title IX probe into the school district’s practices.

So far this school year (Aug. 10 through Sept. 6), the district recorded 245 dress code violations. That’s already nearly double the total in the 2019-20 school year (101) nearly twice the total in 2020-21 (164). Now, the district appears to be on track to surpass even last school year’s total of 454 violations.

A spokesperson for the St. Johns County School District said schools were only recently required to report dress code warnings to the district, which she says accounts for the recent spike in recorded violations.

But the issues appear to be isolated so far this school year, with about 96% of all of the district’s dress code violations happening at just four schools: Bartram Trail High with 25, Creekside High with 51, Nease High at 54, and Switzerland Point Middle with 105, which is by far the most. That means 43% of the violations recorded so far this school year have happened at one school.

At those four schools, though, female students still receive a disproportionate number of dress code write-ups. Nine out of every 10 violations are given to girls.

READ: St. Johns County School District’s 2022-23 Student Code of Conduct

“The only words that come up for me is it’s a toxic learning environment for the girls,” said Lily Bristow, the mother of a St. Johns County eighth-grade student.

Bristow said she’s not against the district having a dress code but worries about the educational impact of its enforcement.

“When you have this constant, you know, fear that I’m going to be dress-coded, that, you know, somebody’s going to say something that my friend is being dress-coded, if all it does is trigger the part of the brain that is not set up for learning, it’s set up for fear for flight,” Bristow said.

Last year, St. Johns County was thrust into the national conversation when a yearbook from Bartram Trail High School was initially released with dozens of female student photos digitally edited for modesty.

The St. Johns County School Board voted last year to strike the male-female specific language from the district’s student dress code policy. It also relaxed some requirements on shorts and instructed staff to soften enforcement procedures.

Still, some families in the district say they are still seeing violations disproportionately impacting female students.

“It’s almost this toxic purity thing that, you know, you don’t necessarily see in other places,” Bristow said. “There’s stress already in middle school and high school. Why add this too? It’s just such an unnecessary conversation, in my opinion.”

Notably, all of the violations but five were first-timers, meaning they walked away with a warning. Still, state statute requires those to still be recorded and for parents to be notified.

The dress code is listed in the Student Code of Conduct, but because it includes somewhat subjective terms like, “appropriate,” it’s still up to the school’s administration to decide when and how the rules ultimately apply.

“The principals or designees will determine the appropriateness of attire in conjunction with the current dress code policy,” the policy states. “Nothing in these guidelines shall be construed to pre‐empt the principal’s authority to act in specific cases when, in the principal’s judgment and discretion, a student’s attire threatens to disrupt the educational process or the good order and discipline of the school or is otherwise inappropriate.”

Meanwhile, the Title IX investigation is ongoing. It was launched in 2021 amid a series of reports that girls were getting unfairly scrutinized. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is looking into whether the school district — through its policy or enforcement — discriminated against female students. That investigation could still take months to complete and doesn’t necessarily mean any wrongdoing took place.