St. Johns County, Fla. — The U.S. Department of Education announced it is investigating the St. Johns County School District over its dress code policy, which some parents have alleged discriminates against female students.
New documents reveal the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights informed the district Monday of the sex discrimination complaint - which if proven true would be a violation against Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
The OCR said its investigation is working to uncover whether the district subjected female students to discrimination on the basis of sex in connection with enforcing dress code requirements, in violation of Title IX and its implementing regulation at 34 C.F.R. § 106.31.
Some parents in St. Johns County have called the school district’s dress code policy “sexist” and have pushed for change for months.
Taryn O’Keefe has two children who go to Bartram Trail High School. She said she feels the dress code policy targets, teen girls, more so than guys.
“It’s disproportionately focusing on females,” O’Keefe said. “The dress code is definitely more strict for females.”
O’Keefe and another parent created a Facebook page called “St. Johns County School District: Change the Dress Code.”
The group has grown to more than 760 members.
Action News Jax requested records from the St. Johns County School District and found in March, 54 students received dress code violations at Bartram Trail High School.
Of those, 49 were girls or nearly 91%.
In February, 10 students were sent to the deans for violating the dress code of which 80% were female students.
Action News Jax spoke with Nancy Tray, the parent who filed the complaint back in March.
“The body-shaming is a big consideration, it’s a big problem,” Tray said.
Her complaint accuses staff of enforcing dress code requirements differently for female and male students, saying staff went after female students for wearing shorts that do not meet dress code length requirements, but not going after male students.
“Hopefully my daughter can wear what she wants to school when she starts middle school in August,” Tray added.
Tray wants a gender-neutral dress code. She also wants students to be allowed to wear shorts and tank tops, given how hot it gets in Florida.
“We can have better, fair enforcement so that girls aren’t targeted anymore,” Tray said.
Action News Jax reached out to the school district for comment. A spokesperson told us the district just got the complaint Monday, and currently has no comment to give.
Last month 80 students — all-female — had their photos altered without their permission largely due to exposed shoulders and low necklines.
The district told Action News Jax yearbook photos must follow dress code guidelines and a female teacher assigned to manage yearbook guidelines deemed 80 photos “inappropriate”.
The decision sparked outrage among many students and parents.
“Girls shouldn’t be referred to as inappropriate because it’s just our bodies. We’re not doing anything wrong,” said Bartram Trail High School sophomore Liz McCurdy.
McCurdy is one of 80 girls whose school photo was unknowingly altered in the yearbook.
In an official statement to Action News Jax last month, the district said the teacher responsible for editing the photos was not pressured by school leaders to do so.
“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.”
St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson said there was never any intention to harm or embarrass any of the students.
“I don’t, we’re not going to deliberately and purposely do something that would intentionally be sexist,” Forson 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.”
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