The debate over what students are allowed to wear in public schools is taking center stage at the “Women’s Rights Project”. The virtual conference about dress codes is hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). This conference is addressing whether school dress codes are sexist and outdated.
A student from Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns County is speaking at the conference as Duval County explores overhauling its policy.
Duval County students have called the district’s dress code -- “unfair” -- and say that it unfairly targets female students. In August, students at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts staged a demonstration over it.
The next month, Duval County Public Schools conducted an in-depth survey of its high school students -- soliciting feedback on how the district’s dress code policy is written -- and how it’s enforced. “You might not think your voice really matters, but it does.” Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said. “And it’s important to me that you have a chance to be heard among school and district leadership.”
Rather than check boxes, students were asked to write out their thoughts, complaints, and suggestions about how the code should be changed.
Within the more than 35-hundred responses --- some of the most used words were “hot,” “Florida,” “tank” and “comfortable”.
One student wrote, “I believe I should be able to wear a tank top or shorts when it’s hot out. I should be able to dress appropriately to the weather. WE LIVE IN FLORIDA and it’s going to get hot.”
Another wrote, “I think you’re being too strict on something like rips above the knees. I feel there is nothing wrong with having ripped jeans above our knees.”
Reese Nottmeier is a Senior at Fletcher High School -- she and her mother, Tracy Synan, have been some of the most vocal advocates for an update to DCPS’ dress code policy.
“I think people are starting to be more aware of how they should be treated, and what their rights are, and especially women are starting to realize that they should be treated equally, and they should not be sexualized,” Nottmeier said.
Nottmeier said staying comfortable in the hot Florida climate -- while keeping the dress code -- is a constant and unnecessary challenge.
“At school, I literally cannot wear shorts there. And that is painful over the summer, because I just literally can’t find a single pair of shorts that fit the dress code, I must wear jeans. And it’s like that for every girl. And that’s not really fair because it gets so hot,” Nottmeier said.
Synan, who is Reese’s mother said, “The school is forcing the kids to sacrifice their comfort and their learning environment so that they can fulfill their idea of some prudential value.”
Some of the other highly used words in the survey -- “distracting,” “sexualized,” “knee” and “shoulders” all point to the other issue that’s troubling many families…
“Every sociologist psychiatrist will tell you that female body image is affected by adults that they respect telling them that their clothes are too tight or form fitting or not appropriate the clothes that they have chosen and have been proved by their parents something wrong with what they’re wearing, that their bodies are wrong,” Synan said.
This past year has seen a LOT of conversations about this topic -- most notably after Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns County made worldwide headlines when it performed controversial photo-edits on female student yearbook photos.
That launched a federal civil rights investigation which is still underway.