GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay High students were given free rein for an hour with the superintendent to talk about where the school and the overall district have found successes and failures in the second Thought Exchange.
The first Thought Exchange happened last month as a way for Superintendent Addison Davis to speak directly with students. The second Thought Exchange was last Monday and students talked about dress code concerns, a school-wide vaping problem and a welcomed sense of family at the high school located just outside of Green Cove Springs.
“It’s so refreshing to be able to speak to students about what’s working, what’s not and what we can do differently in our schools,” Davis said. “We talk about celebrations that we can duplicate throughout our school district, but we also get to talk about areas that we can lift and improve, and areas of opportunity, and that’s really important in making this district the best it can be.”
The Thought Exchange began with quick introductions before Davis asked students to close their eyes and answer questions anonymously by raising their hand. The answers set the stage for the discussion.
Most of the students felt that Clay High was a family while a few students didn’t raise their hand when asked if they felt safe at school. All of the girls raised their hands when asked if they had problems with the dress code and every student raised their hand when asked if the school had a vaping problem.
Security was the first topic tackled and it began when Davis was asked why Clay County School District Police Department officers don’t work crosswalks and direct traffic during their day. They complained that it was something they felt the school needed but didn’t understand why the school resource officer couldn’t handle that operation. Davis said an SRO shouldn’t be in a consistent location like a crosswalk.
“Our officers have a 1,000-feet of jurisdiction outside of school. However, you will never see an officer stand out in the street directing traffic because if that individual is outside pulling traffic, they’re in (a single location at the same time each day),” Davis said. “If I’m going to participate in an undesired behavior and I know that every single day the resource officer is going to be at the street at this position...then what’s happening to the remainder of the campus? It’s unprotected and that can’t happen.”
Dress code was a hot topic during the meeting, especially for the girls at the table who expressed that they felt it was too harsh and seemed to be more critical for girls.
“They come off as sexist because they have more dress code rules for women or females than they do for males,” one student said.
The female students felt that too often they are cited for breaking the dress code when wearing tank tops or shorts while males in similar attire are not similarly disciplined. They also told Davis they wish to be able to wear leggings to school. Leggings are currently not allowed in school because they are tight, but as one student remarked, skinny jeans can be just as tight and they aren’t outlawed.
The dress code is a topic Davis and his Student Advisory Council are working to compare the dress code with the Florida Department of Education’s regulations. They haven’t found success in bringing big changes to the dress code.
The topics of security and dress code brought out numerous and varied opinions from students, but one thing that everyone in the room agreed on was Clay High has a vaping problem.
Vaping is a statewide problem as it is a product banned from school but because of how easily vaping products like Juul can be concealed, and it’s a problem that hasn’t yet been tackled in an effective manner.
Students said bathrooms quickly fill with students vaping between classes. Not only is this a problem, it prevents students who need to use the restroom between classes.
“We’re late to class because we’re stuck waiting to actually use the bathroom while people vaping take up all of the stalls,” a student said.
Davis acknowledged that vaping is a serious problem in not just Clay High but all high schools within the district.
“One of the biggest trending issues that I’ve seen in these series is vaping and this is a particular area that we have to link our arms together not only as a school district and administration and teachers, but as a community at scale,” Davis said. “Vaping is a national issue with our youth and adolescence so we have to do a better job at figuring out how to educate them.”
Each Thought Exchange, which will happen each month, hopefully will bring about district-wide blanket policies to improve the district and find solutions to each school as well. Since each school is different, each must be assessed on an individual basis, Davis said.
“Overall, I’m thankful for their openness and the talk about how we can continuously improve every single day,” Davis said. “The overall mission is to figure out what we can do to continue to improve the experience for our children. These meetings allow us to look at trends and patterns without our school district and figure out what our priorities and next steps will be to make sure that our children feel comfortable and successful every day in our schools.”