HOUSTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Lambda Legal, and Equality Texas are urging Magnolia Independent School District to stop enforcing and to revise dress and grooming policies that discriminate against students based on gender. The ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal sent a letter Monday to the district explaining why the district’s policy requiring boys, but not girls, to wear short hair forces students to conform to gender stereotypes and violates federal law.
The ACLU of Texas previously notified Magnolia ISD that their dress and grooming code violates federal law, and the organization has continued to follow up with the district to request changes to these policies. Although the district did not enforce its boys-only hair-length rule last school year — citing COVID-19 as a bigger priority — Magnolia ISD has now sent multiple students to in-school suspension (ISS) in the past two weeks for wearing long hair and violating the dress code.
One of the students currently stuck in ISS is a fifth-grade student named Tristan, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. Tristan has previously worn long hair at Magnolia ISD schools without any problem, but they are now being isolated from their friends and prevented from participating in school activities because they do not conform to their school’s gender stereotypes.
“It is frustrating that Magnolia ISD has derailed Tristan’s start to the school year by trying to force them to cut their hair and suspending them,” said Danielle Miller, Tristan’s mother. “Tristan wore long hair during the last school year without incident, and wearing long hair is part of who they are and how they express their gender identity. The school’s actions are painful and harmful to Tristan’s wellbeing, and I ask that the district stop discriminating against them.”
The ACLU of Texas sent a letter to Magnolia ISD and almost 500 school districts across the state last September that have boys-only hair-length rules. That letter explained that these policies violate the U.S. Constitution and Title IX because they discriminate against students based on gender. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas held last year in De’Andre Arnold v. Barbers Hill ISD that a boys-only hair-length rule was likely unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause for purposes of a preliminary injunction.
“The ACLU of Texas previously put Magnolia ISD on notice that the district’s dress and grooming code violates federal law,” said Brian Klosterboer, attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “It’s disheartening to see these discriminatory policies resulting in student suspensions and threats of discipline against families in the district. We urge the school board to listen to parents and students who have been harmed by the district’s grooming code and take immediate action to stop punishing Tristan and other students for not conforming to gender stereotypes.”
“Tristan and other Magnolia ISD students have seen their school experience significantly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and are heading into another year facing similar disruptions,” said Paul D. Castillo, Counsel and Students’ Rights Strategist at Lambda Legal. “To impose further hardships based upon discriminatory and archaic conceptions of gender is unconscionable, and we hope Magnolia ISD will take immediate steps to correct its discriminatory grooming code and focus its resources on creating a safe and welcoming environment for all students.”
In response to the ACLU of Texas’s letter and recent changes in the law, many school districts in Texas have recently updated their dress code policies to no longer treat students differently based on gender or force students to conform to gender stereotypes. Changing outdated dress and grooming codes is particularly important for students who are transgender, non-binary, and gender diverse, since being forced to dress within the gender binary can be deeply harmful and traumatic.
“Students should attend safe and affirming schools where they can be their authentic selves and focus on succeeding in school,” said Ricardo Martinez, chief executive officer of Equality Texas. “Forcing a student into in-school suspension because of an outdated and discriminatory policy that fails to respect the student’s inherent dignity and self-worth is detrimental. Magnolia ISD’s Vision Statement says that Magnolia ISD is ‘dedicated to be the best district in the State of Texas.’ Being the best district in Texas starts with recognizing and respecting each student for who they are.”
See our letter to Magnolia ISD here: https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/2021.8.23_-_letter_from_aclu_and_lambda_legal_to_magnolia_isd.pdf
See our letter sent to school districts at the start of the 2020 school year: https://www.aclutx.org/en/news/discriminatory-dress-codes-have-no-place-texas-schools