Pinellas high schools propose strict dress codes to improve behavior, grades

Published Feb. 8, 2013

In case anyone was having doubts, teenage rebellion was alive and well at Gibbs High School last week.

A proposal to make students wear khaki pants and polo shirts to school was just that — a proposal. But Gibbs students already were dreaming up ways to break it, and break it good.

"I'd wear the crazy shoes and probably wear a tutu over my uniform," said sophomore Gaylen Granby, 16. "I'd dye my hair crazy colors and stuff like that."

Gibbs, Lakewood and Boca Ciega high schools are all exploring new dress code policies in an effort to curb bad behavior and boost academic performance on their campuses. Clearwater became the first high school in Pinellas to move toward uniforms last year.

While research has linked starched collars to these positive student outcomes, administrators say it just makes sense: Eliminate a distraction for students. Let their teachers focus more time on dangling modifiers and less time on baggy pants.

Boca Ciega is in the early stages of discussing what a new dress code might look like. The results of a vote to change Lakewood's will be released in the next few days.

To the relief of many, and surely Granby's mother, Gibbs parents voted down the strict dress code policy, 144-115, last week.

Principal Stephanie Adkinson said that did not mean the khakis and polos would go quietly. She's returning to the drawing board to design a dress code more parents would support.

"There's a fear of the unknown because people haven't seen it at this point, but I think it's not going to be as restrictive as people think," said Adkinson.

She'd like to live in a world where she doesn't have to carry zip ties in her pouch, the kind you'd use to close a garbage bag, in order to cinch boys' belt loops and keep their pants at their waists.

Adkinson said she hoped a stricter dress code would improve students' behavior, but said the policy had nothing to do with the Jan. 25 arrests of two Gibbs students when police found drugs and a gun between the two teens' lockers.

Last year, 228 Gibbs students received 410 out-of-school suspensions. Talking back, skipping class, cursing and fighting were the main culprits. At Lakewood, 199 students were sent home 355 times for similar reasons. Enrollment at both schools hovers around 1,300.

Gibbs is a C school, while Lakewood is a B. Both schools have slowly improved their grades since 2009, when Lakewood was a solid D school and Gibbs was the district's only F.

Gibbs, Lakewood and Boca Ciega, along with Dixie Hollins High, were identified around then by the Florida Department of Education as some of the lowest-performing schools in the state.

Lakewood principal Robert Vicari echoes Adkinson in his hope that a new dress code will prompt students to take school more seriously. He's not sure what it will involve — "maybe a mix of polos, jeans, shirts" — but says an online survey shows parents split at 50-50.

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Pamela Bulu, a Gibbs sophomore, said students are well aware of administrators' intentions. "We're the bad school," said Bulu, 15. "Personally, I know we're not bad, but I know that if I go to my friends' parties from St. Pete High and I say I go to Gibbs, I get the side-eye."

But that doesn't mean she thinks the new clothes will have transformative powers.

"They're just making everyone angry. The only students who supported it stopped when they heard it was going to be khakis," Bulu said. "They thought we'd get cute Catholic school outfits. But, no."

Contact Lisa Gartner at