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St. Johns School District tackles draft dress code during workshop

VIDEO: Earlier this month, the St. Johns County School District sent parents a survey seeking input on a dress code that has been a source of controversy for months and is now the subject of a federal investigation.
VIDEO: Earlier this month, the St. Johns County School District sent parents a survey seeking input on a dress code that has been a source of controversy for months and is now the subject of a federal investigation.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Following a survey that was sent to parents of students, seeking input on a dress code, the St. Johns County School District discussed a draft dress code policy during a Tuesday evening workshop.

It’s something that’s been the source for controversy for months in the district and is the subject of a federal investigation. The district received more than 12,000 responses to the nine-question survey (in full at the bottom).

The results show that the vast majority of parents do not want students wearing lingerie, pajamas or clothing that displays profanity or symbols of drugs. There is also a general consensus backing a rule that bans bedroom slippers, says middle school and elementary school students must wear shoes that have a back or strap on the heel and allows high school students to wear backless shoes. Banning gang graffiti also got wide support.

“We did get a lot of questions, I will say there were some written comments as well, about 30-35% of the surveys we received back had a written comment on it,” said Paul Abbatinozzi, senior director for school services.

One question asked if parents agree or disagree that “rips or tears in clothing should be lower than the 5 inches in length from the top of the knee.” Of the 12,149 responses, 71% agreed while 29% disagreed with the rule.

In the draft proposal, Abbatinozzi noted that there are no more standards for boys and girls, but one policy for all students. The draft policy notes:

“The primary responsibility for a student’s attire resides with the student and their parent(s) or guardian(s). The St. Johns County School District expects students to dress in a way that is appropriate for the school day or any school sponsored event. Student dress code requirements reflect fair, equitable, and consistent practices for all students, while contributing to a safe and positive school climate.

“In accordance with statutory requirement F.S. 1006.07 (students are prohibited from wearing clothing that exposes underwear or that exposes body parts in an indecent or vulgar manner) enforcement will focus on positive guidance without embarrassment to the student and should not disrupt the educational process.”

The draft policy states that clothing, piercings and accessories displaying profanity, violence, discriminatory messages, sexually suggestive phrases, phrases or symbols of alcohol, tobacco or drugs is unacceptable. Pajamas and lingerie shall not be worn as exterior clothing on campus. Headgear and/or sunglasses cannot be worn unless permitted for religious or medical reason. It states head gear may be worn during outside activities.

LINK: Draft of proposed dress cove policy (slides 13-20)

The draft policy states that all students’ clothing must cover areas from one armpit to the other armpit, down to the mid-thigh and approximately 5 inches in length from the inseam. Tops must have shoulder straps and be long enough to adequately cover the waistline and not expose the midriff.

Abbatinozzi says he hopes to have an approved dress code finalized by early August, which they hope to have online for parents to view when back-to-school shopping.

Also discussed during the meeting Alyssa’s Law, which is named after Alyssa Alhadeff, a victim of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018.

The law requires each public school to implement a mobile panic alert system by the 2021-2022 school year in Florida.

The distribution of the online dress code survey came about three weeks after News4Jax learned that the U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation into a complaint that the district’s enforcement of its dress code discriminates against female students. The district later turned over a cache of documents to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

For months, the dress code has generated controversy, from student complaints about how staffers’ comments on their attire made them feel “uncomfortable” to a series of poorly edited yearbook photos that resulted in national headlines.

Here are the full results of the dress code survey:

Personal attire may be in the style of the day. Clothing, piercings and accessories displaying profanity, violence, discriminatory messages, sexually suggestive phrases, advertisements, phrases or symbols of alcohol, tobacco or drugs is unacceptable.

Strongly Agree: 8,728

Agree: 2,594

Disagree: 375

Strongly Disagree: 452

Gang graffiti will not be drawn or worn on backpacks, notebooks, folders, papers, clothing or any other object or on the body of any student on school property.

Strongly agree: 9,486

Agree: 2,170

Disagree: 271

Strongly disagree: 222

Pajamas and lingerie shall not be worn as exterior clothing on campus.

Strongly agree: 7,605

Agree: 3,290

Disagree: 873

Strongly disagree: 381

Head gear, including but not limited to: caps, hats, bandanas and/or sunglasses, shall not be worn on campus unless permitted by school administration for religious, medical, or other reasons.

Strongly agree: 3,724

Agree: 3,911

Disagree: 3,091

Strongly disagree: 1,423

Students must wear shoes that are safe and appropriate for the learning environment. Middle school and elementary school students must wear shoes that have a back or strap on the heel. High school students may wear backless shoes. Bedroom slippers are prohibited.

Strongly Agree: 5,274

Agree: 4,875

Disagree: 1,343

Strongly disagree: 657

Clothing must cover areas from one armpit to the other armpit, down to 5 inches in length on the upper thigh. Tops must have shoulder straps and be long enough to adequately cover the waistline and not expose midriff.

Strongly agree: 4,849

Agree: 4,350

Disagree: 1,785

Strongly disagree: 1,165

See-through or mesh garments must be worn with opaque clothing over it or underneath that meets the standard for clothing coverage (as defined in number 7).

Strongly agree: 6,623

Agree: 4,776

Disagree: 454

Strongly disagree: 296

Rips or tears in clothing should be lower than the 5 inches in length from the top of the knee.

Strongly agree: 3,984

Agree: 4,590

Disagree: 2,436

Strongly disagree: 1,139


About the Authors:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.