Closed-door meeting to discuss SJC school dress code postponed

15-member committee comprised of district leaders, principals, deans, parents & students were to meet Thursday afternoon

St. Johns County School District headquarters in downtown St. Augustine. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – After widespread backlash over enforcement of its dress code and the controversial editing of female student yearbook photos, the St. Johns County School District formed a committee to discuss an overhaul of that key portion of the student code of conduct.

The committee, which includes four district-level personnel, three principals, two deans, one licensed mental health counselor, two parents and three students, was scheduled to hold a closed-door meeting Thursday afternoon.

Within hours of News4Jax being denied access to the meeting -- told it was not open to the public -- district spokeswoman Christina Langston said the meeting would be delayed while they consider the format and venue. She did not know if the rescheduled meeting would be open to the public.

The group is not a decision-making body nor was it formed as an official committee via the school board, hence not legally required to be open to the public, according to Langston.

The members of the committee are as follows:

  • Paul Abbatinozzi, senior director of school services
  • Patrick Canan, school board chair
  • Kyle Dresback, associate superintendent for student services
  • Christina Langston, chief of community relations
  • Jay WIllets, principal of Tocoi Creek High School
  • Amanda Garman, principal of R. B. Hunt Elementary School
  • Traci Hemingway, principal of Liberty Pines Academy (K-8)
  • John Highsmith, dean of students at Creekside High School
  • Yanetta Arnold, dean of students at Pedro Menendez High School
  • Laura Barkett, LMHC, NCC, district social worker
  • 2 parents of students
  • 3 students

In a May school board workshop, Superintendent Tim Forson and school board chairman Patrick Canan said the yearbook photo editing was a mistake and conceded that updates were needed to the dress code portion of the student code of conduct. During that workshop, Forson made the decision to form a committee in order to collect more diverse input on how the dress code should be reshaped.

The delay of this committee meeting means whatever recommendations it makes will not be ready in time for the school board’s next board meeting and would need to be taken up at a later time.

On Wednesday the district said its yearbook vendor, Herff Jones, is offering Bartram Trail High School students a free, replacement yearbook if they return theirs by June 11. On Thursday, the district clarified that students who want to keep their old yearbook but still want a new one can call the school and submit the request form to have one ordered.

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