ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A high school in northeast Florida, which made headlines this year regarding its dress code, is under criticism once again after 80 female students’ yearbook photos were edited without their consent to add more clothing.
Bartram Trail High School was already embroiled in a debate over its handling of the district’s dress code, which critics say unfairly targets girls.
Adrian Bartlett is the mother of a student at Bartram Trail. She said her daughter’s yearbook picture was edited in the chest area to add shirt coverage.
“I think it sends the message that our girls should be ashamed of their growing bodies, and I think that’s a horrible message to send out to these young girls that are going through these changes,” Bartlett said.
Because the edit was poorly done, it makes her body look unnatural, which has led to kids teasing her, Bartlett said. Though her daughter laughs it off, Bartlett said she is concerned.
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“My daughter has been hospitalized twice this school year due to the stress and pressure this past year has brought upon her, including body image issues, which she is still seeking regular treatment for,” Bartlett said in an email to the St. Augustine Record, part of the USA TODAY Network. “And now, the school has made a decision that is now drawing attention to her body in a negative way.
80 photos edited at Bartram Trail
According to Christina Langston, school district spokeswoman, the yearbook coordinator, Anne Irwin, a teacher, decided that the photos were out of dress code and did some of the editing.
Parents disagreed that the students were out of dress code.
Irwin declined to comment for this story, according to Langston.
The high school’s website says all student pictures in the yearbook “may be digitally adjusted” if they don’t conform to the school district’s code of conduct.
According to Langston, “Bartram Trail High School’s previous procedure was to not include student pictures in the yearbook that they deemed in violation of the student code of conduct, so the digital alterations were a solution to make sure all students were included in the yearbook.
“At this point, the school is offering refunds to any parents calling about this issue. The school is receiving feedback from parents, guardians and students on making this process better for next year.”
People have to turn in their yearbooks to get a refund, according to Langston. Photos have been edited in previous yearbooks.
Bartlett said her daughter has worn the same outfit to school regularly and has never received a violation. She said she would like to see consistency in enforcement of the dress code and some policies relaxed.
Other parents pointed out that a photo of male students in swim briefs by a pool made it into the yearbook without editing.
The yearbook team did not edit any team or club photos, according to Langston.
Taryn O’Keefe’s two children had their photos edited. She said her daughters were not in violation of the dress code. Some students are teased because of the poor quality of the editing, she said.
O’Keefe, who pushes for change in the district’s dress code, plans to bring the photo-editing issue, which she described as degrading and “just more body shaming,” to the school board.
“They’re already dealing with challenges with their peers. … I think it sticks with them for their lifetime,” she said.
Stricter standards for girls than for boys
In addition to more gender-neutral guidelines, the St. Johns County School District breaks down these standards in its dress code:
- Boys’ pants/slacks must be worn at the waist. No boxer shorts or underwear may be visible.
- Mustaches and beards shall be neatly trimmed.
- Revealing clothing and pajamas are not acceptable.
- Tops and shirts must cover the entire shoulder and they must be modest and not revealing or distracting.
- Midriff or “cut‐out” dresses and “cut-out” tops may not be worn.
- Extremely short skirts are not allowed.
- Skirts must be no shorter than 4 inches above the top of the knee.
- Revealing clothing, pajamas and lingerie are not acceptable. Underwear must not be exposed.
- Hair curlers and excessive makeup shall not be permitted.
- Girls’ pants/slacks must be worn at the waist. No underwear may be exposed.
Some parents and students call the policy sexist for its wording and enforcement. More than 80% of infractions over the past three years have been issued to female students, according to data provided by district officials.
On March 26, a large-scale inspection of students’ dress at Bartram Trail High School resulted in 31 students cited for issues such as the length of their skirts or exposed midriffs. All of the violations were against female students.
Lorna Bracewell, program coordinator for women’s studies at Flagler College and an assistant professor of political science, said language such as “distracting” in the dress code sends a message to young girls that there’s something inappropriate or unseemly about their bodies and that they have to compensate in some way.
“That’s a bad message. That’s a message that damages the self-esteem of young people,” she said.
Bracewell said she thinks the yearbook issue reinforces that message.
“This is a long-established practice of policing women’s bodies and responding to women’s bodies when they are presented in public with a kind of anxiety and concern,” she said.
Bracewell suggested dress guidelines for students that would apply equally to all genders. She said the policies exclude gender nonconforming and transgender students.
A call for accountability
A photo of Stephanie Fabre’s daughter was edited to cover more of her chest, and Fabre is among the parents looking for change.
“Whether it was intentional or unintentional or not, it happened, so we’ve just go to figure out how does this happen and how to make it not happen again,” she said.
She said she went to the school’s assistant principal with her daughter and was told that the shirt she was photographed in was within dress code guidelines. She said her daughter has worn the same shirt to school without issue.
Fabre said she has a number of questions about the photo editing.
“What adult approved that?” Fabre asked. “How does that happen? Why are they allowed to be judgmental on cleavage or no cleavage? And if they are allowed to Photoshop, why aren’t you teaching them proper Photoshopping skills, and why did this teacher approve for this to go to print?”
Fabre said she was told she could get a refund if the yearbook is returned and nothing has been written in it. She said it’s unrealistic to think students haven’t already gotten their yearbooks signed.
She said she doesn’t want to point blame but rather wants the school to apologize and reissue the yearbooks.
“They took a nonsituation and made a situation out of it. … They’ve made these girls feel humiliated,” she said.
Contributing: Colleen Jones