The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas is suing a Houston-area school district over a binary dress code policy it calls discriminatory and harmful to students.
Six boys and one nonbinary student ranging in age from 7 to 17 are mentioned in a suit filed in a federal district court this week against the Magnolia Independent School District, claiming the school’s dress and grooming codes “imposed immense and irreparable harm” and violate both the students’ civil rights as well as Title IX federal law which prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools.
“We have learned that many students in Magnolia ISD have recently been disciplined and threatened with discipline based on their gender, gender identity, and gender expression, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX),” the ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal wrote to the school district regarding their lawsuit.
The suit claims multiple students have been separated from their classmates via “in-school suspension” or placed in a “disciplinary alternative education program.” Three students eventually disenrolled from the school district over the grooming policy.
“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 told the Texas Tribune.
One of the students impacted is Tristan, Danielle Miller’s 11-year-old child who was assigned male at birth but identifies as nonbinary.
“The second day of school, Tristan's assistant principal called me and told me that Tristan's hair was out of dress code,” Miller told KTRK-TV. “When I was told that we would have to cut Tristan's hair, I was met with trauma from Tristan.”
When Tristan refused to cut their hair, they were punished with in-school suspension. Miller said Tristan had long hair in the past and it was never an issue.
“I have no idea what changed,” Miller told the Texas Tribune, adding the school district was “not saying anything, they’re not responding to anybody in the community about it.”
A 9-year-old Latinx boy who wore a ponytail to emulate his father and uncle was forced to leave the school district when he, identified in the suit as A.C., was first given in-school suspension for five weeks, then sent to what is described as a “disciplinary alternative education program” for seven weeks after he refused to cut his hair.
“Magnolia ISD has harshly punished my son and driven him out of school entirely because he is a boy with long hair,” Azucena Laredo, A.C.’s mother, said in a statement, adding that the family has had difficulty placing A.C. in another district because of the district’s actions.
The ACLU and parents also allege other students, like those on the football team, have flaunted the grooming guidelines with no disciplinary action taken against them.
The Magnolia ISD strongly disagreed with the allegations and claims in the lawsuit, issuing a statement saying it “looks forward to the opportunity to respond” to the suit in court.
“This system of differentiated dress and grooming standards have been affirmed by courts and does not inhibit equal access to educational opportunities under Title IX,” the district said in its statement. “The rules are included in the student handbook each year and are similar to the codes of approximately half of the public school districts in Texas.”