ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – After parents and female students at Bartram Trail High School became outraged that yearbook photos deemed in violation of the student code of conduct had been edited without their knowledge, the St. Johns County School District said it is offering refunds to anyone calling about the issue.
Many of the photos of female students were digitally altered to make them appear more modest, but the students say it was unnecessary and unfair.
Riley O’Keefe is a freshman at Bartram Trail High School. She was surprised Wednesday when she got ahold of the yearbook and noticed something different about her photo.
“There’s a black box over my chest and the cardigan on the side is like moved over and it looks really awkward and I was very confused,” O’Keefe said.
Her photo was altered by the school’s yearbook committee and hers wasn’t the only obvious edit.
“I didn’t think I would’ve been censored. I thought it was only one or two girls,” sophomore Elizabeth McCurdy said. “So, I went to go look at my picture and I was appalled to see that I was censored.”
“I went through the whole day wearing that shirt and nobody had said anything to me,” said freshman Zoey Iannone.
In a statement to News4Jax on Thursday, the district said the school’s previous procedure was to exclude student pictures in the yearbook that they deemed in violation of the student code of conduct “so the digital alterations were a solution to make sure all students were included in the yearbook.”
Several photos showing what the yearbook portraits looked like before and after the digital alterations were shared with News4Jax. The photos were altered to cover parts of the students’ chest and shoulders.
The yearbooks, which cost $100 each, were released to students on Wednesday.
After the release, dozens of female students learned their photos were altered, some more subtle than others.
On Bartram Trail’s website, a disclaimer warns students their photos could be altered.
“All images in ads and all individual student pictures must be consistent with the St. Johns County School District Student Code of Conduct or may be digitally adjusted,” it reads.
O’Keefe said she honestly thought her outfit was not in violation of the policy as she was never approached about it and even had the outfit cleared by the office.
“It made me feel a little uncomfortable that that’s what they noticed when they looked at our pictures,” she said.
The school also came under fire in March after teen girls said they were taken out of class and sent to the dean’s office to change clothes or face suspension. The incidents sparked an online petition created by students calling for change, which had more than 4,000 signatures.
News4Jax found 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.
Across the district, 78% of dress code violations go to female students.