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  • Student Forced To Wear “Shame Suit” After Violating School Dress Code

    Another school year has begun and it seems like the debate over school dress codes shows no indication of stopping.

    The most recent dress code controversy to grab national attention involves fifteen-year-old Miranda Larkin, who moved into the Clay County school district just a few days before starting classes at Oakleaf High School in Orange Park, Florida. On the third day of school, a teacher informed Miranda that her skirt was too short and reprimanded her for violating the school’s dress code policy, which requires all skirts to be worn at knee-length or lower. The teacher then sent Miranda to the school nurse, who directed her to change into the school’s dress code violation outfit. The dress code violation outfit consists of a neon yellow T-shirt and red sweatpants with the phrase “DRESS CODE VIOLATION” embroidered across the chest and down the leg. Miranda was allegedly so humiliated that “she started sobbing and broke out in hives.”

    However, Gavin Rollins, a spokesperson for the district states that “the purpose of this [the dress code violation outfit] is not to humiliate. It’s to identify that it’s the school district’s clothing and reiterate that dress code violations will be addressed.” A student who violates the school dress code has three options: go to class in the dress code violation outfit; attend in-school suspension; or arrange for someone to bring in an outfit that is compliant with the dress code. Miranda contends she was only presented with one option, to change into the “shame suit.” Miranda was subsequently permitted to leave school early without suspension.

    Miranda’s mother, Dianna Larkin, is now threatening to file a complaint against the school under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) for airing her daughter’s dress code violation to the rest of her peers. Pursuant to FERPA, a school may not disclose a student’s educational records, which includes his or her disciplinary records, unless the student expressly provides written consent. Ms. Larkin contends that “by putting a kid in an outfit that says what they did wrong across their chest and down their leg is taking their private records and making them public and that’s a clear violation of their privacy rights.”

    However, the school board disagrees. “The outfit is not displaying a discipline record to the public. If we took off the words the other students would still know that the prison orange T-shirts were for dress code violations. I think that practice is okay,” said an attorney from the school board. Nevertheless, the school district intends to reevaluate its policies and procedures in response to this incident. “We’re not set in having to do it this way…we’re going to take a thoughtful deliberative process in making policy” said a spokesperson for the school.

    Whether or not a viable FERPA claim exists, this case exemplifies the potential FERPA implications schools may face when imposing discipline in a public manner. Schools should keep a close eye on the course of this case, as it has the possibility to have significant financial as well as legal implications.

    If your institution would like further information, please email Hayley B. Dryer at hdryer@cullenanddykman.com or call her at (516) 357-3745.