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Non-binary student wins battle to wear long hair, forces school to abandon dress code policy

The lawsuit argued that long hair was an integral part of the student's gender expression and cutting hair could be traumatic for them.

Non-binary student wins battle to wear long hair, forces school to abandon dress code policy
Image source: YouTube screenshot/KPRC 2 Click2Houston

Trigger warning: This story contains themes of gender dysphoria that some readers may find distressing

A non-binary student will now be allowed to grow their hair, which the school had previously alleged went against its dress code. The Houston-area Magnolia Independent School District has abandoned its dress code policy after being sued by parents and the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last October. As per the school policy, boys and non-binary students with long hair were punished. The sexist dress code was changed following a school board vote last week. The board also made its dress code policy on earrings gender-neutral, reported The Texas Tribune. The school was sued after many students, including a non-binary student, were punished for wearing long hair. A Latino 11-year-old who wore a ponytail to represent his culture was also punished by the school.


The school had refused to recognize the nonbinary student's gender and made them follow the dress code meant for boys. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of seven students, of whom six identified as boys and one as non-binary. The dress code said all boys must keep their hair out of their eyes and that their hair shouldn't fall past the bottom of their ears but then forbade boys from wearing a ponytail or bun. The school didn't adhere to the dress code rules when it punished students who were wearing their hair in a ponytail or bun. Some of the punishments included long in-school suspensions, “disciplinary alternative education program” and other measures.



“Plaintiffs have been subject to severe, ongoing, and escalating harms due to the district-wide policy that prohibits boys, but not girls, from wearing long hair,” read the lawsuit. “They have been denied classroom instruction, barred from extracurricular activities, and forced to be suspended and separated from their peers for well over a month simply because these students do not conform to Magnolia ISD’s stereotypical notions of gender.”


The lawsuit also highlighted the case of the non-binary student referred to as "T.M." The lawsuit stated that T.M. had “worn long hair for the last couple years as a critical component of expressing their gender identity." It also stated that forcing T.M. to cut their hair would have serious implications on their mental health. "If T.M. is forced to wear short hair based on gender stereotypes associated with their gender assigned at birth, T.M. will lose a vital part of who they are and sacrifice an essential element of their gender expression.” T.M.’s mother, Danielle Miller said it would have been traumatic for them to even think of cutting their hair. “Based on [their] reaction and how harsh and traumatized they were, I realized that we weren’t going to be cutting [their] hair,” said Miller, before adding that T.M. was on the brink of "absolute devastation and tears.”

The lawsuit stated that it violated Title IX, the federal law requiring equal treatment and opportunities for students regardless of sex but Houston-area Magnolia Independent School District said it didn't in an initial statement. The school district later released a statement claiming to “respect varying viewpoints” as well as “the rights of citizens to advocate for change.” As part of the district’s settlement with the ACLU, the students punished under the policy will “have their records expunged.”



Brian Klosterboer, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, called on other school districts across the state to take proactive steps to remove such harmful discriminative dress codes. “School districts shouldn't wait until students are actually harmed under these policies, and they've been forced to file complaints or lawsuits,” said Klosterboer. “They should take proactive steps to update their dress codes in accordance with federal law.” 

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