Pasco School Board discusses student dress code

Pasco County School Board member Colleen Beaudoin raised issue with the wording of the dress code within the Student Code of Conduct, stating that it disproportionately targets female students.

LAND O’ LAKES — The 2020-21 school year has yet to end, but Pasco County Schools leaders see the start of the ensuing academic calendar on the horizon.

Updating or amending the Student Code of Conduct is part of that preparation process and the Pasco County School Board took up one element of that 47-page document earlier this month.

Board member Colleen Beaudoin raised issue with the wording of the Rules of Dress and Appearance section of the Code of Conduct, specifically how she believed it disproportionately regulates female clothing and attire.

“Parents of girls have expressed concern about the dress code and how it appears to target girls,” Beaudoin said.

Beaudoin pointed to an amendment in the existing dress code meant to address jeans or pants with holes or rips “that expose undergarments or areas of the body that would generally be covered by undergarments.”

Beaudoin made mention of the dress code’s terminology — strapless tops, skirts, dresses, blouses, bikini tops — that applies specifically to girls.

Superintendent Kurt Browning agreed that the majority of the dress code focuses on female attire, but that the issue is “more complex than looking at the things you mentioned.”

“We’ve got to ensure that our dress code keeps up with the times,” Browning said. “I will tell you that I don’t, personally, have a problem with our female students wearing jeans with holes in them.”

Adding to the discussion’s complexity was that it was being held as a public hearing at the May 4 School Board meeting. According to Browning and School Board Attorney Dennis Alfonso, additional changes to the code’s text would require the district to readvertise for another public hearing and “resetting the clock” on the process of approving the 2021-2022 Student Code of Conduct.

Beaudoin stated she raised the issue on the behalf of parents of female students concerned about the dress code. No one spoke during public comment prior to the board’s discussion.

A concern of both Beaudoin and Browning is dress code enforcement.

“I hate that we spend so much time addressing this in school because it’s taking kids out of class and it’s sucking up our administrators’ time, but I do think we need to move (forward),” Beaudoin said.

“We’re putting our principals in a position of almost being the hall police of having to measure jeans and stuff,” Browning said, going on to relate an instance at an undisclosed school where girls were being sent home to change and boys were being sent to class. “That’s inappropriate. If you’re going to be sending girls home to change, you need to be sending boys home to change.”

After Beaudoin made a motion for staff to revisit the dress code in a way that doesn’t target specific clothing, Board member Cynthia Armstrong suggested instead using gender-neutral wording for dress code parameters.

Beaudoin agreed, amended her motion, and it passed unanimously, 5-0.

Prior to the vote, Board Chair Allen Altman said it would be pertinent to again get opinions from staff members working in the schools.

“If we’re going to do that motion and move forward, I’m going to request that those that are engaged in the implementation of the rules be involved again in the process to determine and make sure it fits what we need to have appropriate dress in our schools.”