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Students sue Texas school district for banning boys from wearing long hair

According to the lawsuit, the Magnolia Independent School District dress code policy's gender-specific requirements "imposed immense and irreparable harm" on the students.

Students sue Texas school district for banning boys from wearing long hair
Cover Image Source: YouTube/KPRC 2 Click2Houston

A new lawsuit filed in federal district court Thursday morning accuses a Houston-area school district of enforcing a gender-based dress code policy that has allegedly led to multiple students being disciplined for having long hair. Filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas on behalf of six boys and a nonbinary student — aged 7 to 17 — the lawsuit claims that the district's policy requiring boys to wear short hair is based on gender stereotypes that violate the Constitution. According to the lawsuit, the Magnolia Independent School District dress code policy's gender-specific requirements "imposed immense and irreparable harm" on the students, some of whom say they have worn their hair long for years while attending school in the district without facing any repercussions.


The suit also states that school district administrators apply the policy unevenly. While the plaintiffs have been disciplined for the length of their hair, other students with long hair that violates the district's grooming standards — such as those on high school football teams — have allegedly not faced discipline. "We have warned the district repeatedly that its gender-based hair policy violates the Constitution, but the district continues to derail students' lives and deny their right to a public education free from discrimination," Brian Klosterboer, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement provided to The Washington Post.


As per the lawsuit, the plaintiffs were threatened with or sent to in-school suspension for weeks at a time and some were even placed in a "disciplinary alternative education program," leading to three of them unenrolling from the school district. Magnolia ISD’s 2021-22 student handbook states that hair must "be no longer than the bottom of a dress shirt collar, bottom of the ear, and out of the eyes for male students." Hair also cannot "be pinned up in any fashion" or "worn in a ponytail or bun for male students," according to the guidelines.


Speaking to The Texas Tribune, Danielle Miller — whose 11-year-old child is nonbinary and a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the district — revealed that she received a phone call from her child's school at the beginning of this school year informing her that her child would have to cut their hair. Her child was "just in absolute devastation and tears" when she told them they would have to cut their hair," the mother-of-two said. "... 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," she added.


This led to her child being placed in in-school suspension for nine days, Miller stated. Although the suspension was postponed during a 60-day window to appeal the decision, it has almost run its course. Miller explained that her child has had long hair for a couple of years and that their hair length had never been a problem before. "I have no idea what changed," she said. "[The district is] not saying anything, they're not responding to anybody in the community about it." Miller stressed that "no student should be forced to conform to gender stereotypes or have their education upended because of that student's gender. We will not be ignored nor go away quietly while our children are disciplined simply because of their gender."


Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the district claimed that the district has heard from "a small group of parents" about concerns over the dress code policy and that they "are currently in the process of considering parent grievances" on the matter. "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," said the spokeswoman, Denise Meyers said. "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 lawsuit comes after a months-long battle between the students, their parents, and school officials. Several of those students and parents denounced the policy at a school board meeting in late August, where three civil rights groups — including the ACLU — urged the district to end the discriminatory grooming policy. One of the students who denounced Magnolia's grooming policy at the board meeting, Daniel Hoosier, revealed that he initially resisted cutting his shoulder-length hair. However, by the time he spoke to board members, the then-17-year-old "caved" after serving one day of an in-school suspension. "I feel like I lost a piece of myself when I was forced to cut it," the teen told reporters. "It feels dehumanizing to have school, a government entity, force me to cut my hair and meet their expectations of appearances." 


According to the lawsuit, one of the plaintiffs in the suit — a 15-year-old high school student — said his hair is "one of the only aspects of his life that he has full control over," especially during the pandemic, which killed both his mother and grandmother. Another plaintiff, a 9-year-old Latino student identified in the lawsuit as A.C., wears his long hair in a ponytail and out of his face. As per the lawsuit, his family was told on the first day of school this year that he would need to cut his hair or be sent to in-school suspension. Since the fourth-grader wants to keep his long hair — like many Latino men in his family, including his dad and uncle — A.C. did not cut his hair and was allegedly placed in in-school suspension for five weeks, deprived of recess and normal lunch breaks, and banished from campus to a "disciplinary alternative education program" outside of school for seven weeks.

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