SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – School leaders at Sarasota High School started cracking down on the school’s dress code policy Wednesday after several months of lax enforcement.

“With all that has gone on with COVID and all of the adaptations that we have had to make, I have not made dress code a super high priority this year,” said Sarasota High School Principal David Jones.

Jones says he came over the school’s intercom Monday alerting students of renewed efforts at enforcement.

“I just said, hey you all know that dress code has been slipping and I just want you to know that as of Wednesday, I am going to begin enforcing it. There is no change in the dress code, but we will be enforcing it,” said Jones.

A reminder message went out to families Tuesday afternoon ahead of Wednesday’s start of enforcement.

Courtesy: Sarasota High School

Throughout the day, Jones says more than 40 students were ‘dress coded’ and four opted to go home rather than change their clothes.

The school’s student government president was one of the many females found in violation of the dress code policy. She says she was given the option to have a relative bring a change of clothes or spend the school day in ‘in-school suspension’. During that time in ISS, she decided to start a petition to change the school’s dress code policy, describing it as ‘sexist’.

In one day, more than 1,100 students, parents, alumni and others signed the petition.

“It is time to change this old mentality that clothing is “distracting”,” wrote one signee.

“The dress code obviously presents double standards and disrupting the education of SO MANY girls its unacceptable,” wrote another.

Courtesy: Kassidy Saba

The student who created the petition declined to speak on camera with 8 On Your Side Thursday, but said she’s working to form a committee and gather input from the entire student body.

“I never thought it would gain this much attention,” the student wrote in a message to 8 On Your Side. “It really shows how large of an issue this is at hand,” she continued.

Principal Jones explained his renewed efforts at enforcement focused on four areas. Short shorts and midriff shirts for the female students and sagging pants and tank tops for the male students.

“My attempt was to keep it balanced, but the number of guys that wear tank tops and/or sag is fewer than the number of girls that wear short shorts and or midriffs. Is that sexist? In my heart of hearts, I absolutely believe it is not. I understand how kids can interpret it that way, but I don’t think they are really looking at it for what it is,” said the principal.

In the petition, the creator argues, ‘girls are sometimes told that their clothing is too distracting and boys can’t pay attention. However, this kind of language is sexist and many anti-dress code advocates point out that it sends a message to the male student body that they are not solely responsible for their actions’.

Principal Jones addressed that point during one of his ‘family chats’ over the school’s PA system Thursday.

“A big emphasis point for me is that I absolutely don’t buy into the premise that a dress code should exist so that guys in the schools aren’t distracted in class and I explained that it is an incredibly dangerous assertion because it implies that if guys harass girls, it is the girls’ fault because of what they wear and I will never support that argument. So, I made that abundantly clear this morning,” said Jones. “I want our young men to learn how to respect women and it doesn’t matter what they wear. You respect them; end of discussion,” he said.

“As president of Sarasota High’s Student government, we are putting together a dress code committee to work with Mr. Jones (SHS’s Principle) in redesigning our current dress code. Mr. Jones has been more than willing to listen to thoughts about the current dress code. We had many questions and issues from those fearing this petition wanted to abolish the dress code as a whole. That is not the case whatsoever. This petition was only meant to point out the current flaws with the modern school dress code,” wrote the student who created the petition in an update.

Jones agrees there are elements of the policy that can and should be changed. He’s worked with student groups in the past to try to get them to address the dress code policy on a larger platform.

“For three years I have been trying to get students and empower them to do this. They are always really really excited, but for whatever reason, it fizzled. I am absolutely convinced that our kids have the ability to put together a document and kid-friendly language to take it to the school board and really get their voices heard,” said Jones. “Hopefully will get some good input and kids will have a healthy, productive way of really making some meaningful changes,” he continued.

“I think we need to follow the standards. I don’t think the standards are out of line,” said School Board Chair Shirley Brown. “They’re going to school, they’re not going to the beach,” she continued.

Principal Jones says a teacher is helping students with the committee. He says the dress code issue could go before the school board by this summer.