ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The St. Johns County School District on Tuesday answered questions about controversial dress code violations at Bartram Trail High School.
News4Jax spoke with Paul Abbatinozzi, senior director for school services for school district, after some students at Bartram Trail said they were told to unzip their clothing in front of staff members to check if they were violating the dress code, prompting a protest and an online petition.
“Our goal for our student code of conduct dress code isn’t to treat any group unfairly. It’s in there to promote a positive school conduct,” Abbatinozzi said.
The school district confirmed 31 girls received dress code violations on Friday, but the district also told News4Jax there are a lot of inaccuracies floating around online with what happened at the school last week. The district said the principal is speaking with the students, teachers and parents involved to learn more about what happened.
“I think it’s very fabricated. I think its blown out of proportion just so the school looks bad. But it’s not as bad as it’s going out to be,” said Lauren Lindsey, a senior at Bartram Trail.
Student Tea Miller said: “It was just humiliating in a way that they shouldn’t have to feel in school.”
One student, who did not wish to be named, told News4Jax a male teacher pulled her out of class and she was told to unzip her jacket in front of people in the main hallway. The student said she had a sports bra underneath her jacket and was told what she was wearing was inappropriate. The student told News4Jax: “I was walked downstairs got it taken which was my bra and was told I have detention.”
“Typically we would expect the students to go to an assistant principal or dean’s office with regards to the management of that situation,” Abbatinozzi said. “We certainly endorse that it needs to be done without embarrassment, it needs to be done in a manner that supports positive guidance when we deal with dress code manners.”
Several other students claimed to have similar experiences while wearing zip-up jackets with tank tops underneath.
When asked about the claims that students were asked to remove clothing items, Abbatinozzi said: “I’m not sure there is accuracy with regards to how that information is coming across.”
Another student, senior Alexandria Hess, told News4Jax she was called out in front of a group of students by a school administrator about a dress she was wearing that was 4 inches above her knees.
“She said, ‘We need to talk about what you’re wearing. You look like a hooker,’” said Hess, who explained she was wearing the dress because she had to dress in business casual clothing that day. “It was embarrassing because she said it in front of a lot of people. They all heard her.”
News4Jax also asked Abbatinozzi about that comment.
“That, again, is one of the inaccuracies that are out there in regards to the nature of that verbiage,” Abbatinozzi said. “I’m not confirming that that was the actual dialogue that was said.”
According to the school district’s 2020-21 Student Code of Conduct, girls’ “tops and shirts must cover the entire shoulder and they must be modest and not revealing or distracting.” It also states that for all students, “skirts, dresses, shorts, baggies, culottes, no shorter than four inches (4″) above the top of the knee, are acceptable.”
According to the district, a dress code violation is a minor offense and it doesn’t require suspension.
“I want to see these girls feel comfortable in their bodies and wear the clothes that make them happy and express themselves,” Miller said.
On Monday, students put up signs and wore clothing that would violate the dress code.
“I think the way it’s being handled by the students is immature,” Lindsey said.
The district said it sends out a survey for parents and students every spring to provide feedback on the Student Code of Conduct. Parents or students who have concerns are urged to reach out to the school and fill out the survey. The district said it will look into if any dress code changes are needed.
News4Jax asked the district for numbers on how many boys and girls received dress code violations over the past couple of years, and the district said it was working to get those numbers.