“It was never the intent to embarrass or harm any of those students:” St. Johns County superintendent speaks out after 80 girls’ yearbook photos edited

ST. JOHNS, Fla. — The yearbook controversy out of St. Johns County continues, now gaining national attention.

Side by side photos show the clear edits done to pictures after a female teacher at the school, who oversees the yearbook club, deemed them inappropriate.

Students have said it’s made them feel embarrassed, ashamed and sexualized.

Action News Jax got answers from the school superintendent, he said he doesn’t want this to ever happen again, but parents and students say the bigger problem still needs to be addressed.

“it’s body shaming, its discrimination, it’s gender discrimination, it’s sexualizing of girls,” Stephanie Fabre, mother of 9th grader Riley O’Keefe said.

After days with no response, Superintendent Tim Forson agreed to speak to Action News Jax reporter Ben Ryan on Monday.

When asked if he thought it was sexist only girls’ photos were edited:

“I don’t, we’re not going to deliberately and purposely do something that would intentionally be sexist,” he said. “Here’s the hard part, just being realistic about it, sometimes our intent is not what is the result and although we might have had a good attempt it was not received that way.”

The decision was made by a female teacher at the school who’s in charge of the yearbook club. Superintendent Forson said there was never an intention to harm or embarrass any of the students.

“What the expectations of a student wears in a classroom each and everyday is different than what the expectation is for a child that might be a wrestler, swimmer, performing arts programs so there are certainly circumstances where, what is being worn or the attire being worn is different,” he said. “The element of that is making sure we are clear and consistent about what that is what it should be and what it shouldn’t be.”

9th grade student Riley O’keefe and her mother Stephanie Fabre say this is an extension to the dress code problem that they believe is lenient towards boys.

“It’s geared so, ‘we don’t want you to be distracted so let’s make sure girls don’t wear this,’ and it’s not a good message to send,” Fabre said.

The district confirmed in the following statement with Action News Jax the decision was done by the female teacher and there was no pressure from above.

“Yes, edits to photos have been made in the past. She did what she thought was right and to the best of her ability (skill and tools) to get ensure that they were in compliance with dress code as she deemed the pictures that were altered to be out of dress code.”

Forson said it will not happen again.

“We missed the mark, OK?” Forson said. “We will do better we will continue to get better, the whole key to it is, do we learn from it and do we have a better product moving forward and I can assure you we will do that.”

The dress code for girls states clothing worn must be modest and not revealing or distracting. Fabre said the term distracting is subjective and those consistent changes need to be made not just to the yearbook, but the dress code moving forward.

“It’s discriminatory for our kids and they’re walking around with targets on their back,” she said. “I’m watching young girls stand up for what they believe, they’re so steadfast in their morals.”

Superintendent Forson told Action News Jax they will make sure more eyes are involved in the decision-making process for yearbooks and look to provide more consistency in it along with the dress code.

When asked if there would be repercussions for the teacher, Superintendent Forson said he would not discuss that with us.

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.

RELATED LINKS:

Parents at Bartram Trail High School asking for apologies after seeing their children’s yearbook photos digitally altered

80 Photos of girls edited in yearbook