School District’s Response to Student Dress Code Complaint
By Emma Jabbour
Last year, St. Johns County School District was placed under federal investigation by the Department of Education for a Title IX violation regarding the dress code. The issue over dress code came under scrutiny when a Bartram Trail High School yearbook sponsor altered several girls’ picture. According to The St. Augustine Record, “Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in educational programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.” This story made national news and concerned many students and parents in the area. In response to the investigation, the district created a revised dress code for this school year. To many students’ surprise, the new dress code allows for shoulders to be shown, as well as hats and sunglasses to be worn in the courtyard or outside. The students clothing must have straps, and must cover them from armpit to armpit and down to mid-thigh.
Junior, Abigail Vitello, is happy that the new dress code gives more reasonable options for girls, especially in the summer weather. She commented, “I am more comfortable with the dress code physically but also because I can wear clothes that I’m confident in.” She thinks that the new dress code allows students to be more expressive while still appropriate. Abigail says, “This is a positive change because it makes students feel more expressive and safer.” Junior, Mary Slowik, mentioned that she is very pleased with the changes to the dress code because they give students more of a selection when choosing outfits and allows everyone to be more expressive. Mary says, “I do believe that the new changes allow students to be more comfortable, as I said previously, there are outfits to choose from, which may include something they are more comfortable in.”
Dr. Oberkehr, principal of Ponte Vedra High School, thinks that the St. Johns County School District School Board did a great job at taking their time to hear feedback from students and parents and make a reasonable dress code that is easy for students to understand and follow. Dr. Oberkehr mentioned that the first two weeks of school, administrators were only issuing warnings for dress code violations, but now that the year is in full swing, students could face disciplinary actions for continuing to not follow the rules. Dr. Oberkehr stated that PVHS uses progressive discipline, meaning that students will get warnings and conversations before the situation ever escalates to Saturday School or detention. Although he is always worried about the students who will push the limits of the new rules, he says that administrators will continue to enforce the rules as the situations present themselves. On a scale from 1-10, Dr. Oberkehr would rate clothing a four for causing distractions, but in the grand scheme of things, does not think it is a big priority. He commented, “When we are dealing with a pandemic, kids with mental health issues, and students working to get their diploma, dress code is not at the top of our priorities.” Dr. Oberkehr mentioned that, if anything, he wishes that enforcing the dress code was not such a battle because he does not enjoy it-by any means- and would rather support and help PVHS students.
Much of the controversy centered around claims that girls are cited for violations of the dress code much more than boys. Dr. Oberkehr states that students will be looked at the same, male and female, when it comes to dress coding and discipline. The biggest issue he has had with male students breaking dress code would be boys taking their shirts off during P.E., but the gym teachers handled that immediately. He says, “I appreciate expression and want students to be comfortable, but school is a professional environment. I hope kids have pride in PVHS and would want to represent it well.”
It is clear that students and administration think that these recent changes are having a positive effect on school campus. Dr. Oberkehr mentioned that the school has not received much negative feedback, so he is assuming that mostly everyone is happy with these changes. This new dress code allows for more expression, students being more comfortable, while still appropriate and professional. While what happened at Bartram Trail last year was very controversial, the recent steps taken by the district have pleased many students and put the year off to a great start.