Rumors circulated all day that the photos in the yearbook had been altered, said Riley O’Keefe, a ninth grader at Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns County, Fla. And when she finally got her copy, O’Keefe opened the post on the page with her photo on it and laughed in disbelief.
A black bar had been added to cover a larger area of her chest, she said. O’Keefe flipped through the rest of the phone book. Dozens of other students had undergone similar changes in their photos, many of them crudely, in order to cover more of the chest.
O’Keefe said she was confused at first and then furious. Other girls approached her to tell her that the changes had made them feel sexualized and exposed. Today, many students and parents are asking for an apology.
They say the edited photos represent the latest in a series of interventions by school administrators, who used an old-fashioned dress code to control how girls dress. “They have to recognize that girls are ashamed of their bodies,” O’Keefe said of the edited photos.
At least 80 student photos have been edited. No photos of male students have been digitally altered, not even of the swim team the boys appeared in swimsuits in, said O’Keefe and some parents who saw the yearbook. School administrators and school district representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
The Bartram Trail, a public high school with approximately 2,500 students, says on its website that yearbook photos “must be consistent with the St. Johns County School District Code of Conduct or they will be digitally altered. “.
Christina Langston, a spokesperson for the school district, told the St. Augustine Record that a teacher who serves as the yearbook coordinator made the changes.
“The school’s previous procedure was not to include in the yearbook photos of students who violated the student code of conduct, so digital changes were a solution to ensure that all students were included in the school year. ‘directory,’ Langston told the newspaper. She also said the school would reimburse dissatisfied people the amount they paid for the directory and that “we are receiving feedback from parents, guardians and students who will help us improve this process next year” .
Stephanie Fabre, O’Keefe’s mother, and Taryn O’Keefe, his mother-in-law, say they plan to attend a school board meeting next week and are calling for changes to the dress code, which prohibits girls to wear tops or blouses that do not cover “Full Shoulders” or wear skirts or shorts that end more than 10 centimeters above the knee. Blouses should be “modest and should not be revealing or distracting,” the dress code states. “Are they all good students and the priority is whether they show too much shoulders?” Taryn O’Keefe said. “This is nonsense.”
In March, students were outraged when school administrators stood in the hallways and attracted the attention of dozens of students, cutting some of their classes for dress code violations. A teacher scolded a student who wore a zippered sweater over a sports bra, said Riley O’Keefe, who claims to have spoken to the girl.
She was forced to take off her coat and wear a white T-shirt given to her by the school, O’Keefe said. The girl also described what happened to the News4Jax website. The next day, some boys demonstrated to show solidarity with their colleagues, going to school in dresses or skirts. A boy put on a swimsuit over his pants and a pink wig, O’Keefe said.
She adds that to her knowledge, none of the boys were reprimanded.
After the March incident, which students called a “crash,” O’Keefe created an online petition to change the dress code and has already collected more than 5,000 signatures.
Adrian Bartlett, whose daughter, Brooke, 15, is a ninth grade at the school, said she also wanted the school to reprint the yearbooks, but with the original photos unchanged. She said when her daughter received the phone book last week, the impression was that a piece of the image of her checkered shirt had been cut out and stuck to her chest.
This is particularly annoying, Bartlett said, as her daughter has been battling pandemic stress and other health issues for the past 12 months. “The school has done a terrible job protecting the mental health of our children by making them feel ashamed of their bodies,” Bartlett said.
“Their attitude makes the girls think that they should cover their bodies, to be ashamed, which is humiliating for a lot of them.”
Nancy Tray, 44, whose daughter is in fifth grade, said the dress code was only starting to apply in the gym. She says the text is worded in a way that gives school officials broad authority. Even if a student is following the code, an administrator can decide that a girl’s dress or shorts are still too short, Tray said.
It’s common for girls to wear sweatpants or long pants, despite the Florida heat, to avoid the risk of being kicked out of class and scolded.
Tray said her son, an eighth grader, never had to worry about his clothes.
“When he hit fifth year he would get out of bed and put on whatever he could find,” she says. “I fight this code every day so that my daughter has the same chance.”
Tray says she is concerned about the effect the rules might have on her daughter’s self-esteem and remembers when her son reported the case of a sixth-grader who went to school on the first day of school, and a teacher scolded her in front of the other students.
“We’ve worked hard over the past ten years to create a strong, confident and daring girl,” Tray said. “If your school board tries to get him to lose this in high school, my husband and I will definitely face this situation as a huge problem.