Violations of the Beaufort County School District's dress code policy doubled in the 2014-15 school year, and district officials aren't sure why.
Beaufort High School's dress code policy came under scrutiny last week when student body president Carey Burgess wrote on Facebook that a staff member told her Oct. 27 that her khaki skirt was "too short" and gave her an in-school suspension.
In the past week, Burgess's story went viral, seen thousands of times on social media and picked up by several national media outlets.
While Burgess and Beaufort High principal Corey Murphy said last week that dress codes are a minor issue compared with education and instruction, violations of the dress code are increasingly prevalent.
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Middle and high schools in Beaufort County issued 4,079 dress code violations in the 2014-15 school year, way up from the 1,940 violations issued in the 2013-14 school year, Beaufort County School District spokesman Jim Foster said Tuesday. Most of them are for violations such as skirt length, colors, patterns, or baggy clothing, Foster said.
Of the dress code violations issued over each of the last three years, the majority went to male students. In the 2014-15 school year, there were 2,178 violations given to boys, compared to 1,901 given to girls, Foster said.
Figures for dress code violations in the school district's annual report list only a fraction of the violations issued yearly. The 71 dress code violations in the annual report for the 2013-14 school year actually refers to students with repeated infractions who received more serious disciplinary action, Foster said.
School district officials don't have an answer for why the dress code violations increased so dramatically over the past school year.
"It could be more intense enforcement, or it could be a greater number of kids pushing the envelope," Foster said.
Hilton Head Island High School principal Amanda O'Nan said dress code violations are the second-highest infraction at her school, behind tardies.
Most of the Hilton Head High violations are a result of the school's logo policy, which requires students to either wear clothing without visible brand logos or names, or obscure the brands with a sticker, she said.
Students wearing clothing that violates the dress code are given an opportunity to change before they are taken to a room to serve an in-school suspension, where they remain until they change the clothing in question, she said.
O'Nan and other administrators at Hilton Head High try to catch dress code violations before the first class of the morning starts, but if a student is caught with clothing that violates the dress code even a few minutes after class starts, they are pulled from the room to change clothes.
Students at Hilton Head High are presented with several options: they can go home and change, ask their parents to bring a change of clothes, or they can utilize the school's "thrift shop" of donated, used clothing and borrow clothes for the day. O'Nan said the student must wash and return the clothing or pay a $10 penalty per item.
Many students at Hilton Head High who believe their outfits are in violation of the dress code have taken to bringing an extra set of clothes to change into if they are stopped by a teacher or an administrator. In some cases, students will also try to skirt the rules; O'Nan said some female students wear large scarves to hide shirts that lack a required collar.
"Teenagers are clever," she said.
District chief student services officer Gregory McCord said the in-school suspension could last the entire day if a student refuses to change clothes, but that happens infrequently.
O'Nan said out of school suspensions for dress code violations are rare and are only given in extreme cases where the clothing in question or the number of repeat offenses may warrant it, he said.
O'Nan does have one theory why the dress code violations have spiked in the last year: new technology.
More teachers and administrators are out in the school's hallways, given laptops on roll carts to keep an eye on the hallways in their free periods, she said. Before the 2014-15 school year, teachers and administrators recording dress code violations would hand-write the referral for the infraction. Now all of those infractions are handled electronically.
In the old system, a student could have received multiple infractions and the school not know the issue was addressed multiple times until after the opportunity to take corrective action has passed.
Now, all of that documentation can be found quickly, making it easier to see if the clothing issue has been addressed already and if a student is being insubordinate, O'Nan said.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.