YEARBOOK CONTROVERSY: St. Johns County School Board proposes dress code changes, parents and students say voices were heard but it’s not good enough

ST. JOHNS, Fla. — On Tuesday, the St. Johns County School District confirmed with me only five edits were made in the 2020 yearbook, four girls and one boy.

At the most recent school board meeting, speeches were given during public comment by Bartram Trail 9th grade students Riley O’Keefe and Zoe Iannone. They did so in the same outfits they wore on yearbook picture day.

These were the very same outfits they say they’ve worn 100 times without receiving a dress code violation, until it was flipped around and edited in the yearbook.

Parents and students say during the meeting, they felt like their voice were heard.

“I was not out of dress code, so why was I targeted? I was targeted because I’m a girl, I was targeted because of your sexist policies and your empowerment of a culture of harassment intimidation and body shaming of female students as a priority.” - Zoe Iannone

The workshop had a focus on the student code of conduct dress code, days after 80 girls’ yearbook pictured were edited because they were deemed inappropriate by a teacher at the school.

9th grade Bartram Trail high school student Riley O’Keefe said she doesn’t feel safe or focused in that environment.

“If I can walk in here and it’s appropriate for me to come and give a speech to the school board, then I think it should be fine for the photos,” O’Keefe said.

O’Keefe said her and Iannone are pushing for change.

“It’s not just me it’s not just Zoe, it’s not just one person and its not just the 80 girls that had their photos edited, it’s every girl that goes to the school every one that comes in from middle school, elementary school and for years to come,” O’Keefe said. “They’re all going to experience the benefits of this change.”

The district said a female teacher at the school deemed the 80 pictures inappropriate and not in compliance with the dress code. A district spokesperson said “she did what she thought was right” and the decision was solely made by her, adding there was no pressure from above.

Th district says the teacher made the edits with the help from “one or two students.”

Superintendent Tim Forson said the lack of oversight won’t happen again in the future.

The St. Johns County school board presented updated recommendations - saying they want to remove the word ‘modest’ and clarify the term ‘distraction.’

They also want to move away from the 4-inch measurement, saying skirts, shorts and dresses should not be shorter than fingertip or mid-thigh, whichever is shortest.

School board chair Patrick Canan suggested the board forms a committee, when Action News Jax reporter Ben Ryan asked if he thinks the recommendations are good enough, he said:

“No, not based off what I’m hearing or what I’m seeing,” He said. “I think it’s a start but I think it takes a study.”

The district has said edits were made by a female teacher with the help of one or two students.

Superintendent Tim Forson said after hearing the speeches, it opened another perspective.

“The yearbook was a mistake and something we need to do better,” Forson said. “I’m certainly sorry to each and every one of those girls that was unknowingly impacted by that.”

Iannone said much like O’Keefe, the outfit was to make a statement and felt as though the board listened.

“They look at me think this outfit is sexual or like, I have too much cleavage showing? I wanted to prove them this outfit is nothing,” Iannone said. “It’s a cute outfit that I felt good in that day, and it wasn’t anything that was like identified as how they saw it.”

Parents say the yearbook controversy is one example of the inconsistent dress code. The deadline for the vote is on June 8, where the board will come to a decision, but parents say they want it pushed back so they can rework the dress code.

Superintendent Forson said the timeline for changes would come forward in the next school year.