Pinellas to make school dress code more gender-neutral

The proposal mirrors changes in other counties following complaints that the existing code is too focused on girls’ clothing.

Tampa Bay Times | By Jeffrey S. Solochek | March 8, 2022

LARGO — For more than a year, Pinellas County school district officials have heard complaints that their student dress code unfairly targets girls.

“I caught a lot of interesting static from parents of female students who feel the dress code is more slanted toward them,” School Board member Bill Dudley said during a workshop Tuesday.

That’s about to change.

Following a statewide trend, the Pinellas district is poised to revamp its policy to make it more gender-neutral. It plans to remove language that talks about specific pieces of clothing, which usually are worn by girls, and instead set straightforward guidelines that apply to all students equally.

For instance, instead of stating that bra straps should not be exposed, the rule instead would say “no underwear” may be showing.

Area superintendent Dwayne Hinds said the initiative does not alter the dress code specifics, such as the rules relating to holes in jeans needing to be below thigh level. The big change comes in the language, he said.

The district heard about the need from several groups, he said, including a student-run women’s rights organization.

“We did use that feedback to guide our thinking, which caused us to take a different look at this,” Hinds said, noting that the district did not consider the idea as critically last year as it is doing now.

At first, many of the critics suggested the district do away with its dress code, he added. This time, there has been a more nuanced approach.

As the district prepared its recommendation, it looked to other districts across Florida that have taken similar steps.

The Pasco County School Board, for instance, began discussing such a move in May.

The St. Johns County school district adopted a more gender-neutral dress code in August. Around the same time, students in Duval and Martin counties started protesting their dress codes as sexist.

So far, Hinds said, feedback on the Pinellas wording has been “very, very positive.”

It is scheduled to go to the School Board for consideration later this spring, along with other amendments to the Code of Conduct.

One of the other areas that board members said they want to pay close attention to is student attendance. Several members said they have heard from teachers about problems, particularly at high schools, with students not attending all classes every day.

The problem, they said, puts pressure on educators who are trying to keep graduation rates up for students who don’t come to learn.

“I’m not sure what the solution is,” board member Carol Cook said.

The board asked the administration to bring some recommendations on how to deal with the situation, including consideration of the use of virtual classes and exam exemptions, among other ideas.

“We need to make it very clear to students that COVID is over and we need to bring back the guidelines” that schools relaxed during the height of the pandemic, board chairperson Eileen Long said.

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