While the distribution of yearbooks is traditionally an exciting end to the school year, dozens of female students at one Florida high school were dismayed to find their photos had been digitally altered without their permission or knowledge. An educator at Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns County, Florida, digitally edited at least 80 girls’ photos after deeming their outfits to be immodest and in violation of the school's dress code. Parents, however, have criticized the school for unnecessarily sexualizing female students and suggesting they should feel shame about their bodies.
“I think it sends the message that our girls should be ashamed of their growing bodies, and I think that's a horrible message to send out to these young girls that are going through these changes," Adrian Bartlett, the mother of a student who had her yearbook photo edited, told The St. Augustine Record.
A photo of Bartlett’s daughter was digitally altered to add a higher neckline so that none of her chest was showing. Similar edits were made to the photos of 79 other female students, many of whom wore basic v-neck or scoop-neck tops for their photos. A spokesperson for the school district told the paper that Anne Irwin, a teacher who also serves as Bartram Trail High School’s yearbook coordinator, had done the editing because she believed the students’ tops violated the school dress code.
Romper’s request for comment from Bartram Trail High School was not immediately returned.
But the school’s dress code is vague, and heavily geared at regulating female students. A handbook for the school district notes tops worn by female students “must cover the entire shoulder and must be modest and not revealing or distracting.” Girls are also prohibited from wearing “excessive make‐up,” although what exactly constitutes excessive is not explained.
“Personal attire may be in the style of the day, but clothing that is immodest, revealing, or distracting in character is unacceptable,” the dress code reads.
What’s more, students whose photos were edited have argued there was a double standard in play as no photos of male students, including those of male students wearing speedos, were deemed immodest and edited to add clothing. “The double standard in the yearbook is more so they looked at our body and thought just a little bit of skin showing is sexual,” 9th-grade student Riley O’Keefe told CBS Jacksonville affiliate WJAX. “They looked at the boys, for the swim team photos and other sports photos and thought that was fine, and that’s really upsetting and uncomfortable.”
O’Keefe told the news outlet she’d even popped in to the school office ahead of picture day while wearing her chosen outfit to confirm it was acceptable. She was told it was. When she saw her photo had been edited in the yearbook, O’Keefe told the publication she and other girls felt “uncomfortable” and “like their bodies aren’t acceptable.”
Other students told WJAX they were horrified and disgusted at the idea an educator had immediately zeroed in on female students’ tops. “They open up the yearbook, saw pictures and that was the first thing they worried about,” 9th-grader Zoe Iannone said. “It was unfair and I was horrified, I was disgusted.”
According to The New York Times, a school district spokesperson explained editing the photos was meant to be a solution to an earlier policy that simply cut photos of students deemed to be in violation of the dress code. “The digital alterations were a solution to make sure all students were included in the yearbook,” they said. The spokesperson said refunds were being offered to parents and students but only if they returned their yearbook without it having been written in.
Stephanie Fabre, O’Keefe’s mother, questioned why someone at the school took it upon themselves to judge student’s cleavage. “Why are they allowed to be judgmental on cleavage or no cleavage?” the Record reported she said. "They took a non-situation and made a situation out of it. ... They've made these girls feel humiliated.”
She and many other parents have called on the school to apologize and reissue the yearbook without any digitally altered photographs.