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'This is a big deal': Students on the First Coast want to change 'sexist' dress code policies

Students in St. Johns and Duval Counties are speaking to First Coast News about their concerns of discriminatory language in school dress code policies.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Families across the First Coast are challenging their school district’s dress code policies calling the rules sexist and out of date. Dress code controversies have evolved over the years to become a fight against the sexualization of young girls.

“Sexual objectification is a huge thing in our school especially," said Laila Khazravan, a student at Bartram Trail High School.

This sentiment has been repeated by hundreds of people online in local forums and by students who are speaking to First Coast News.

“It’s really degrading and really confusing because all of these clothes are acceptable at church," said Reese Nottmeier, a student at Fletcher High School.

“Having to put on baggy pants and baggy shirts every day, I look at myself and I’m like I shouldn’t have to wear this," said Sloan Nottmeier, a middle school student in Atlantic Beach. 

“This is a big deal and it’s been a problem in our culture for so long," said Khazravan. That's why they're speaking up.

School Dress code controversies can be traced back to the Supreme Court case Tinker vs Des Moines Independent Community School District.

To simplify the case, students wore black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War. The school district suspended the students. Then their parents sued the district. 

Eventually, this became a landmark case with the Supreme Court ruling on the side of the students saying the armband was not disruptive to their education and was a form of free speech.

The issues with public school dress codes have shifted since the Me Too era to fight the sexualization of young girls.

 “I was in gym class," Reese tells a story she says was one of her worst experiences. "I was wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt that showed about maybe an inch or two of my stomach. I was walking to go sit down in my roll call spot and the gym teacher told me ‘I can’t dress sexy at school.”

Sloan and Reese Nottmeier point out words suggestive and distracting in Duval County’s dress code policy.

“It’s kind of teaching us that our bodies and our skin aren’t something we should be comfortable with," said Sloan.

The sisters are pushing for modification of the dress code to remove subjective terms and adjust to modern-day fashion. Sloan wrote and distributed a report on the topic to her principal and the school board on the reasons why their dress code is problematic.

In St. Johns County's Code of Conduct, words like distracting and modest are used to describe what girls should be wearing. These words are used specifically for girls. There’s also a measurement requirement for how long a dress or skirt should be. Rules that do not exist for boys in the county”

"The scope of the dress code policy isn’t intended to single out one group," said Paul Abbatinozzi, St. Johns Co. Director for School Services. "I don’t dispute that’s how the numbers fell out.”

Public records show 83% of dress code violations in St Johns County Schools were for female students. Abbatinozzi says he’s expecting changes to the policy, which would come in May and then be approved by June. 

"They tell men nothing and they tell us females, you know cover up," said Khazravan. " So we have to take responsibility for their actions.”

She took her concerns directly to the school board. In a speech in front of the board, she said in part, "The standards for girls vs boys dress attire includes a significant difference.”

Dress codes around the country include terms like suggestive, revealing, and provocative. Students say if people don’t stand up for change, then the only thing forced to change will be their clothes.