A Houston-area public school district is being sued over a dress code policy that The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas says is causing harm to students. The lawsuit takes aim at a dress code policy that says male students cannot have long hair.
According to the Texas Tribune, the plaintiff in the lawsuit includes seven students, six boys, and a nonbinary student. Their ages range from 7 to 17 years old, and all attend the Magnolia Independent School District (ISD).
The rule reportedly breaks the 14th Amendment and violates Title IX, which states discrimination on the basis of sex is prohibited — in this case, a rule based on gender and hair would be breaking Title IX.
The rule has no limitations on the length of hair that girls can have, only boys.
“To be kicked out, pushed out, of school entirely simply because of their gender and their hair is really unconscionable,” ACLU of Texas staff attorney Brian Klosterboer said to the Texas Tribune.
Klosterboer said the ACLU spoke with the Magnolia Independent School District several times about its dress code policy. They addressed the harm of the gender-specific requirements and how it breaks the 14th Amendment and Title IX, which states discrimination in education based on sex is prohibited.
The case exists in a context of broader fights over dress codes, and the sexist way in which they are often enforced. Critics of dress codes note that girls, and LGBTQ+ kids, are more often the subject of dress code policy and punishment and that there’s not a lot of data that suggests that enacting something like a uniform policy has a valuable impact on test scores on more.
The lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court on October 21, claims the school’s gender-based dress code policy “imposed immense and irreparable harm” on several students. Several of the students say they’ve had long hair throughout several years of school in the same district without any previous issues — until this school year.
In a statement, Magnolia ISD disagreed with the ACLU’s claims listed in the lawsuit. “Like hundreds of public school districts in Texas and across the country, MISD’s rules for dress and grooming distinguish between male and female dress and grooming standards,” a district spokesperson, Denise Meyers, said.
Several students have said they’ve been threatened with suspensions or have been given in-school suspensions for violating the policy. Sometimes these last for more than a month at a time, simply for having hair long enough to put into a ponytail.
Other students were placed in the school’s “disciplinary alternative education program.” As a result of these consequences, three students named in the lawsuit were unenrolled from their school district.
“The suit also states that while the plaintiffs have been disciplined for the length of their hair, other students with long hair, such as those on high school football teams, have not faced discipline,” the Texas Tribune reports.
One parent of a child who is named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the district said her child was “just in absolute devastation and tears” when the school administration called to say they would need to have their child’s hair cut.
“… Based on [my child’s] reaction and how harsh and traumatized they were, I realized that we weren’t going to be cutting [their] hair,” the parent said. Their inaction landed the child in an in-school suspension for nine days, which was suspended while the decision was appealed.
A Houston federal judge has ordered a temporary halt to the Magnolia ISD’s dress code grooming policy that requires boys to have short hair. Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ruled that students were being harmed by a policy and granted a reprieve, according to Houston Chronicle.