Seventeen-year-old Daniela Briones-Moreno, a Key West High School senior with plans to go to college, stood up and spoke about the district’s dress code at the Oct. 26 school board meeting after years of frustration. 

During her speech, she said the following, “I realize our schools’ intention with the dress code is to get us ready for our professional lives, and I completely understand that. But you are also enforcing the dress code with the rationale that males are distracted by what we wear, which isn’t right. You are teaching us that males will never respect women unless we dress properly and that the way you dress determines how you get respected.”

Ironically, after the meeting, Briones-Moreno realized that the shirt she was wearing, a black top that was off the shoulder, would not have met Key West High School standards. She may have been “dress-coded,” the students’ lingo for when they are told to either go home and change or cover up.

“The off-the-shoulder top was just a coincidence,” she told Keys Weekly. “I gave a speech and was dressed professionally.”

Per Keysschools.com, Monroe County School District has a general dress code, but each school can also make more specific requirements. Key West High School’s dress code policy reads as follows: “Tops must have sleeves that cover the shoulder. No sleeveless, straps or bare midriff tops are permitted. Shirts and tops must extend over the waist; no skin may be exposed at the belly/waist line; shirts may not be see-through.”

The reason for the modesty? Teachers have told Briones-Moreno that “shoulders are distracting.” 

But the student pointed out that how a young woman is dressed is sometimes inconsequential. She was once harassed in middle school by a group of boys when she was wearing “a giant T-shirt and jeans.”

Briones-Moreno is also frustrated that the way the dress code is enforced is inconsistent among body types. She describes herself as having a “curvier build.” She remembers an incident where she was stopped at the school’s front gates and “dress-coded.” She was asked to put on a sweater because she was slightly revealing her midriff. But a friend “with a slimmer build” who was standing next to her was wearing “almost a sports bra” and was not dress-coded.

A Middle Keys mother who wishes to remain anonymous told Keys Weekly that she is a high school parent who has had experience with the topic. 

“I think (the dress code) does put an unfair burden on the girls,” the mother said. “It makes the boys’ comfort and education more important than the girls’ experience. And I think it is difficult for them to fairly enforce it. It tends to be a certain body type that gets singled out.”

Briones-Moreno said that she’s getting support from teachers for making the speech. She feels that a solution would be for respect to be taught in the curriculum starting from kindergarten — not just to boys but also to girls. She has seen girls shame each other for what they are wearing, as well.

Her plan is to come back to the board and speak again — accompanied by friends — if she does not see any changes made.

“As a former principal, the dress code has guidelines for uniformity for all students,” said Amber Archer Acevedo in response to Briones-Moreno’s speech.

Archer Acevedo is the coordinator of community relations and the former Key West High School principal. She said Briones-Moreno’s statements “are her opinion, not necessarily the reason for the dress code.”

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Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines; Elle.com; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.