Mom starts petition to fight 'witch hunt' of dress code

An unidentified sixth-grader who was reportedly in violation of the dress code at Pacetti Bay Middle School in St. Augustine, Fla. (Photo: Facebook)

Updated Sun, Sep 9 with statement from the school district.

It’s no secret that school dress codes are not applied even-handedly and often include more rules for girls than for boys. When one Florida mom learned how the dress code at her daughter’s middle school was being handled, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Michele Faris of St. Augustine decided she did not appreciate the way the girls are treated at Pacetti Bay Middle School, which is part of the St. Johns County School District. According to Jacksonville’s News4Jax, Faris has a 13-year-old daughter at Pacetti Bay. Faris didn’t immediately respond to Yahoo’s request for comment.

Faris told News4Jax that school officials are checking students’ dress codes during class time, although the school district told the outlet this was not the case. St. Johns County School District’s chief of community relations, Christina Langston, told Yahoo via email that “dress code checks are not happening during instructional time.”

“There was one announcement from the principal during the first week of school during morning announcements while children were in homeroom to check for dress code,” Langston said. “Again, dress code checks are not happening during instructional time.””

“It happened during class time,” Faris told News4Jax, saying that her daughter had told her that during her science class, a loudspeaker announced “a random dress code check.” “And everyone has to stand up,” she said. “The teachers have to go around the room on what I’m calling a witch hunt for dress code violations.”

In her petition, Faris wrote that students who violate the dress code are “removed from their learning environment, publicly shamed, and have to sit in in-school detention until a parent can bring a change of clothes.”

She also called out the reasons that were cited for pulling girls from class, writing, “Please note, this is for jeans that have holes in them that barely show any skin just above the knee, leggings and jeggings where everything is appropriately covered by a shirt but perhaps just 1/2″ too short, shorts that even though they are NOT DISRUPTIVE, they are just not long enough to reach fingertip length, or shirts that don’t fully cover their shoulders.”

If they are taken out of class, students miss part of that day’s instruction time, which plenty of people see as unfair punishment, especially when more girls than boys are affected by the policy. So far, more than 1,550 people have signed Faris’s petition.

She shared the petition on Facebook, and received many supportive comments.

One woman recalled her high school dress code.

Another noted that her daughters wear jeans every day and often feel too hot in the high temperatures of early September in Florida.

Another suggested uniforms.

Another Pacetti Bay parent, whom News4Jax referred to only as “Dustin,” told the outlet that his daughter wears jeans and long-sleeved shirts to school for fear of breaking the district’s dress code. 

In an interview with the St. Augustine Record, Faris clarified what she hopes to get out of the petition.

“We are not for rescinding the dress code policy,” she said. “Our thought process is we want the school district to revisit this policy and make sure it is not discriminatory towards any group, like it is against the girls currently.”

Faris also told The Record that her daughter hasn’t seen any boys disciplined over the dress code rules. News4Jax also reported that “No dress code enforcement issues with boys have been reported.” However, Langston told Yahoo that boys have gotten in trouble over the district’s dress code regulations.

The St. Johns County School District’s dress code is available through the district’s Student Code of Conduct. According to the dress code, “inappropriate clothing worn by a student is detrimental to the school program.”

The dress code also notes that “clothing that is immodest, revealing, or distracting in character is unacceptable.” The Code of Conduct includes a section of guidelines for “all students,” as well as specific rules for boys and girls. The girls’ dress code rules note that “tops and shirts must cover the entire shoulder, and they must be modest and not revealing or distracting.”

“We understand the need for dress code, schools have the right to have a dress code, but what [are they] teaching the girls about themselves?” Faris told The Record. “Our end game is that we do want to have this addressed by the district.”

Faris’ petition is the latest in a string of nationwide efforts to end double standards in school dress codes. Last year, a male high school student wore a crop top to school to test whether he would be disciplined (he was not). And last month, a Chicago principal faced criticism after suggesting that dress codes could help protect students against sexual harassment. Controversy over school dress codes is not likely to go away anytime soon, and Faris’s petition probably won’t be the last such protest.

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