CLEARWATER — Dress code policies will take effect Monday at several Pinellas County schools when the new academic year starts Monday, while others will be cracking down on dress code enforcement.
Educators hope the changes will remove the social stigmas often tied to what students where to school and, ultimately, improve students’ academic performance.
Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg and High Point Elementary School in Clearwater will join 11 others in the county with strict uniform or “modified dress code” policies. Some high schools will be monitoring everything from the logos on students’ clothing to the fabric from which it’s made.
At Lakewood High, students will be allowed to wear either jeans or khakis, shorts that extend below the knees and Lakewood club, sports, or “school spirit” shirts. Students can also wear solid color polos, as long as the logos aren’t bigger than a quarter and the shirts aren’t red, a color often associated with gangs, said Principal Bob Vicari.
High Point Elementary will require boys to wear navy blue or khaki pants or shorts and plain navy blue, yellow or white polo shirts without logos. Girls can also wear skirts or shorts. School T-shirts will be OK for everyone.
To his own surprise, Vicari said students seem excited about the new uniform policy, which was decided on by a group of school staff, students and parents. The school is designing more school spirit shirts with local vendors and hosting fashion shows to show off their ideas, he said.
“Let’s face it: It kind of diminishes the haves and have-nots, too,” Vicari said. “Kids are competitive, and if you don’t wear the latest and greatest, sometimes you can be a little embarrassed. We know what high school is like, and I think this will make life a whole lot easier for families and make sure clothes aren’t a reason for not going to school.”
The idea to enforce uniforms has been discussed for years, but once Clearwater High School “broke the ice” by implementing a modified dress code for the 2012-2013 school year, other schools began discussing similar ways to replicate its success, Vicari said. With short-shorts, spaghetti straps, sheer clothing and other more suggestive clothing options coming back in style, many schools have simply “reached their boiling point,” he said.
The school district has set a standard dress code that prohibits students from wearing clothes that expose undergarments, including bra straps, or body parts in an “indecent or vulgar manner.” Shorts, skirts and dresses must reach mid-thigh or longer, and clothing cannot portray violent, profane or sexually-suggestive images or phrases. Schools can further restrict what their students can wear.
At Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, the new dress code prohibits rips, holes, cuts, images, writing or embellishments, and any logos must be smaller than a quarter. Northeast High School in St. Petersburg will also prohibit holes or rips of any kind in clothing items and require all shorts, pants and skirts to be no more than 3 inches above the knee.
“We wanted to level the playing field, we didn’t want kids competing with one another regarding how expensive their clothing is,” said Kathy Van Dora, an assistant principal at Boca Ciega High. “Students were very concerned at first, and even some parents were upset; but the more we’ve educated them, the more they’ve come to accept it.”
At Tarpon Springs High, no manufacturer logos can be larger than a 3-by-5-inch index card, and students can’t wear any see-through clothing or low-cut tops. Students can only unbutton the top buttons on polo or dress shirts. Athletic shorts won’t be allowed; and dresses, skirts and shorts must go at least to the knee caps. No bottoms can have any images or writing on them, unless they are from the school.
Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg will start doing daily dress code checks, and offenders will be forced to change into scrubs. Students are only allowed to wear solid colored polo, button-down and crew-neck shirts, unless they are school shirts. Pants, shorts and skirts must be knee-length or longer and be either khaki, dark-colored or denim.
The plain clothes outlined in the modified dress codes are generally cheaper, school officials said. Gibbs High’s recommended, solid color Old Navy polos are $9 for men and $12 for women, according to the school.
St. Petersburg High School considered switching to a uniform or modified dress code as well but decided instead to more strictly enforce the standard dress code to allow students more freedoms. Students that are improperly dressed will receive warning slips during the first week of school, but after school administrators spend Thursday and Friday making individual presentations about what is acceptable and what isn’t, a violation could earn a student an in-school suspension, said assistant principal Darlene Lebo.
“I think in the past they tried a lot of things and there was no follow-through with it, so it just got put on the back burner,” Lebo said. “When kids are properly dressed and those distractions are taken away from them, they’re more likely to focus in class. Just like anything else, if you come to work and you’re dressed more professionally, you’re more focused on what you’re doing versus if your in flip flops and a tank top.”
If dress code problems don’t correct themselves this year, the school will switch to uniforms next school year, she said.