Dress code violations tripled over previous year in St. Johns County schools

Social worker says how discipline is handled could have long-term repercussions for students’ mental health

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The number of recorded violations of the St. Johns County School District’s student dress code has skyrocketed during the 2020-21 school year, according to data provided by the district.

So far in the current academic year, 518 dress code violations have been recorded in the SJCSD, 302 of which happened at Creekside High School. Bartram Trail High School students received 33 violations.

In the 2019-20 school year, 164 violations were recorded across the district and the 2018-19 school year saw 101 violations.

This data does not show the number of verbal warnings. Typically multiple verbal warnings are given at some schools before a violation is recorded and a consequence rendered.

“If a dress code violation did not constitute a consequence then typically it is not recorded,” SJCSD spokesperson Christina Langston said. “Bartram Trail normally gives three warnings before sending someone for detention, therefore when we recently pulled the reports, Bartram Trail was not even listed.”

Female students have consistently received the majority of violations in St. Johns County schools, and every other district for which News4Jax obtained data.

Lori Osachy is the director of the Body Image Counseling Center in Jacksonville and has been a licensed clinical social worker for three decades.

Osachy said the disparity between male and female students creates the potential for serious mental health issues.

“It can be internalized, those messages that ‘When I express myself with my clothing, I am not appropriate,’ or that ‘My body shouldn’t be showing.’ It can make you ashamed of your body,” Osachy said. “When you have one gender being targeted more than the other gender, and when it’s sexualized, then it becomes a problem.”

The method the schools use to enforce the dress code, Osachy said, can also lead to long-term problems.

“I think it can cause social anxiety issues where a lot of these kids are taken out in front of their classmates and they’re shamed and they’re suspended,” Osachy said. “Teenagers are in a very vulnerable age where they worry about what everyone’s thinking of them. So, when you single them out and shame them, it can have lifelong effects.”

In late March, students at Bartram Trail High School told News4Jax that teen girls were being taken out of class and sent to the dean’s office to change clothes or face suspension. An online petition created by students calling for change has collected more than 4,700 signatures as of this article’s publication.

The school advisory committees at the individual SJCSD schools are in the process of collecting feedback from the community on the student code of conduct, which includes the dress code, and Langston said the school board plans to review that feedback in June.

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Joe covers education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.