It’s not odd for there to be a little drama when high school yearbooks are released at the end of the year, but at Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns County, Fla., the drama has reached national attention.
That’s because 80 of the students’ portraits were digitally edited — many of them clumsily — to add more clothing to chests and shoulders.
All of the students are female. None of them were consulted.
Students and parents told local news outlets that they were shocked and embarrassed when they got their copies of the $100 yearbook last week.
The school district told The St. Augustine Record and News4Jax that ultimately the decision to edit the photos was made by the yearbook coordinator — also a teacher at the school — who deemed the photos were in violation of the school’s dress code. According to the school’s website, all photos in the yearbook must be consistent with the dress code or they “may be digitally adjusted.”
But critics have been quick to point out that the yearbook has unedited photos of the men’s swim team in Speedos, for example, which would also violate the dress code.
Bartram Trail High made local headlines about a dress code controversy earlier this year when dozens of girls were taken out of class in one day for dress code violations. Many of the girls reported they were asked to unzip their fully zipped sweatshirts in front of other students and teachers to reveal tank tops and sports bras, which were then deemed in violation.
Students created an online petition in response, saying that implementation of the dress code unfairly targets females and that it is “clearly based on the sexualization of young women and their clothing, especially since many girls are told they are dressed inappropriately or that what they are wearing may be ‘distracting’ to the boys.”
In recent years, some students and organizations around the country have called for reforming dress codes in schools, saying they often create an environment where girls are made to feel ashamed of their bodies, and that the education of their male counterparts is seen as more important. In a 2018 study on schools in Washington, D.C., the National Women’s Law Center said Black girls are disproportionately punished for dress code violations.
The St. Johns County School District has offered refunds to parents who have called about the issue, but the students would have to turn in their yearbooks to get their money back.
But many parents are saying this issue isn’t about the money.
Adrian Bartlett, whose daughter’s yearbook picture was edited to add more material to her shirt on her chest, told The St. Augustine Record that her daughter is trying to laugh it off, but she worries about the underlying idea the photo editing conveys.
“I think it sends the message that our girls should be ashamed of their growing bodies,” Bartlett said, “and I think that’s a horrible message to send out to these young girls that are going through these changes.”