Come Aug. 20, nine more Pinellas schools will join the growing number of those with stricter rules for what students can wear to school.
As a minimum, Pinellas has a districtwide dress code — tops must cover shoulders, bra straps, stomachs, sides and backs. Bottoms must be at least mid-thigh length and cover underwear. Two years ago, School Board members considered requiring uniforms at all elementary and middle schools but decided against it.
Since then, more schools have been heading in that direction. The latest are Dunedin, Lynch and Skycrest elementaries and Azalea, Dunedin Highland, John Hopkins, Largo, Palm Harbor and Tyrone middle schools. Nearly all of the schools are struggling with low grades and are combatting tough discipline issues.
At Azalea in St. Petersburg, principal Connie Kolosey said the district dress code leaves room for interpretation and the staff spends too much time enforcing and discussing the rules. She decided more specific ones would help.
"We're trying to encourage the idea that there's appropriate dress for different settings," she said, "which is a life lesson."
In the fall, the district will now have 33 schools with mandatory modified dress code or uniform policies and 11 schools with voluntary policies. Most are elementaries, though seven middle schools and Clearwater High School have joined the ranks.
For many parents, dress code is a divisive issue. Critics say harsh rules restrict kids' individuality and creativity.
A PowerPoint presentation at Oak Grove Middle School in Clearwater outlines the changes for parents. School officials say they "do not see this as a punishment. We see this as a positive action to help improve the overall educational environment on campus, eliminate distractions, increase student achievement and lower behavior problems, teach students how to dress for success, increase school spirit and teach a life skill."
In the same presentation, school officials list discipline numbers they hope to see decrease with the new dress code: 500-plus suspensions, 1,500 referrals and 100 bullying reports.
Kolosey, who is entering her second year as principal of Azalea Middle, said that while most of her students don't like the new dress code, parents and staffers approve.
She said fewer options can make buying clothes less expensive and getting kids dressed in the morning less of a hassle. It might even help parents if their son walks up to the breakfast table with his pants sagging below his hips or their daughter heads out to the bus stop showing too much skin.
"The school can be the bad guy," Kolosey said.
But ultimately, the goal of the dress code, she said, is to help teachers and students concentrate on instruction and learning.
Alli Langley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.