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Note to Pinellas students: Fashion police are watching

The chatter began last spring, and then the rumors became robocalls and newsletters and a lengthy video. By the time the new school year started, every teacher had a script. The students got the message all day long: St. Petersburg High School was enforcing its dress code this year.

No tank tops. No short shorts. No "ifs," and certainly no "buts."

"A lot of people were saying it wouldn't last, or we assumed they'd get tired of (enforcing) it, but I don't think anyone was prepared for how serious they are about the dress code," said Margot Ash, a 16-year-old junior.

Indeed, St. Petersburg High was one of several schools across Pinellas to crack down on students' clothing as classes resumed last week. At least half a dozen schools turned to "modified dress codes" as they sought to minimize distractions from classwork.

At Boca Ciega High, students no longer are allowed to show their knees — bottoms and dresses have to fall below them — and only polo shirts, collared shirts and crewnecks are allowed up top, with no logos or images. Boca Ciega spirit shirts and college wear are the exceptions.

"We want to provide an educational experience and not have any of that marred by how expensive someone's clothing is," assistant principal Kathy Van Dora said. "If we're not distracted by what someone's wearing or how short a skirt is, then that will boost student achievement."

But will students actually follow suit? Van Dora said yes. Ninety percent of Boca Ciega students showed up in clothes that met the new dress code Monday. The rest were dealt with case by case, as some students hadn't received the calls that went out over the summer.

Still, there was confusion among families as they tried to comply with new, particular dress codes. Some schools, like Gibbs and Lakewood high schools, are fine with logos smaller than a quarter on students' polo shirts. But Bay Point Middle is not allowing any logos on students' shirts, which 11-year-old Kelci Elliot didn't realize until she showed up for her first day of middle school.

Kelci, whose polo had a small logo, said school officials sent her to the library where she sat for a few hours with 40 to 50 other dress-code offenders.

Her mother, Larre, said she was frustrated by the lack of consistency among Pinellas schools' dress codes.

"The message that you just sent to my daughter at age 11 is that the logo on your shirt is more important than your education," Larre said.

Pinellas does have a district dress code forbidding tank tops, midriff-baring shirts, see-through clothing and bottoms that don't reach midthigh. But more and more schools are opting to go beyond the district's baseline policy, citing the individual school's needs.

In addition to polos and button-downs, Lakewood High is requiring students to wear knee-length khaki or denim shorts or long pants. But like most schools with new dress codes, Lakewood makes an exception for "spirit wear," or school-related clothing.

Principal Bob Vicari said he was inspired by Clearwater High, which introduced a modified dress code in the 2011-12 school year.

"They said the climate changed, that it became more of an academic environment," he said.

High Point Elementary and Northeast High also advertised new dress codes this year, although Northeast, like St. Petersburg High, seemed to be more strictly adhering to the district's dress code.

"Like anything else, there will be a trial. I'm sure some students will test the limits and we'll have to get through the process," St. Petersburg High principal Al Bennett said. "But our students are very compliant and, before too long, it'll be a non-issue."

Times staff writer Cara Fitzpatrick contributed to this report. Lisa Gartner can be reached at lgartner@tampabay.com. Follow her @lisagartner on Twitter.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Students at Lakewood High School are not permitted to wear skirts or dresses this year. The original version of this article contained incorrect information on Lakewood's rules.

Note to Pinellas students: Fashion police are watching 08/23/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 29, 2013 4:56pm]
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