Florida high school alters 80 yearbook photos of female students wearing 'immodest' tops

The photos were digitally altered if the students failed to comply with the dress code, the school said.
The photos were digitally altered if the students failed to comply with the dress code, the school said. Photo credit: Bartram Trail High School yearbook / Twitter / Ben Ryan

A high school in Florida has sparked outrage after yearbook photos of 80 female students were altered to add extra clothing to their chests and shoulders.

Bartram Trail High School, a public facility in Florida's St Johns County School District near Jacksonville, has come under fire for digitally altering the photos without the students' permission.

But the school district argues the photos were only altered if students had violated the dress code, which requires girls to wear "modest" shirts. 

It said the yearbook coordinator, a female teacher, decided to edit the photos after determining the students were pictured in clothes that did not fit the school's standard of dress.

A disclaimer was also posted to Bartram Trail's website, alerting students their yearbook pictures may be edited if they failed to comply with the dress code.

But local media were quick to point out the pictures of male students were left unedited, fueling concerns around the role sexism might have played in the decision. Critics and students alike have also raised questions as to whether the school sexualised its young students. 

"The double standard in the yearbook is more so that they looked at our body and thought just a little bit of skin showing was sexual," Bartram Trail student Riley O'Keefe, 15, told CBS affiliate WJAX News.

"But then 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."

The district told WJAX the school previously removed photos of students who did not adhere to the dress code, but had updated its policy to ensure all pupils were included.

In response to the backlash, Bartram Trail said it will issue refunds of US$100 (NZ$138), the price of the yearbook, to those who were disappointed in the alterations.  

According to the district's student code of conduct for 2020-2021, clothing that is "immodest, revealing, or distracting in character is unacceptable". 

"Students are prohibited from wearing clothing that exposes underwear or that exposes body parts in an indecent or vulgar manner," it says.

"Tank tops and shirts are not acceptable except in physical education classes."

Under the girls' dress standards, it says tops and shirts "must cover the entire shoulder and they must be modest and not revealing or distracting". Excessive makeup and extreme hairstyles are also prohibited.

Riley's mother told BBC News some of the "poorly Photoshopped" edits have encouraged bullying.

"Because their pictures were so poorly photoshopped, they're being used as memes now and circulating Snapchat, and that's horrible," she said.

Earlier this year, 15-year-old Riley created an online petition campaigning for changes to the dress code, which she says "is clearly based on the sexualisation of young women".