Seven students are suing the Magnolia Independent School District in Texas because of its rule that boys must have short hair.
One of the pupils, a 9-year-old boy identified as AC in court documents, was forced by school officials to serve a month-long suspension in school, had his recess and lunch breaks removed and banned him from the school’s campus, sending him to another school – all in an attempt to pressure him to get a haircut.
AC still refused to comply. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed the lawsuit in federal court on Friday against the school district, which has 13,000 students is located northwest of Houston in southeastern Texas.
“Wearing long hair adds to AC’s self-confidence and is an important part of his family heritage,” the lawsuit states.
The students are between 7 and 17 years old and they argue that the long hair ban that only applies to boys are based on gender stereotypes and is a constitutional violation. They also claim that school officials are applying the ban against some but not against others. The plaintiffs argue that the ban has led to “immense and irreparable harm”.
Staff attorney Brian Klosterboer of the Texas ACLU said in a statement to The Washington Post: “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.”
The school district’s handbook says that hair can be “no longer than the bottom of a dress shirt collar, bottom of the ear, and out of the eyes for male students”.
The handbook also says that “earrings may be worn only by girls. Earrings worn by boys will be confiscated and may not be returned to the student”.
The rules also state that “no beards or moustaches of any style are allowed on students. Sideburns may not be longer than the bottom of the ear”.
“Magnolia ISD has used a dress code that sets different standards for boys and girls for many years. For example, hair length for boys must be no longer than the bottom of the collar. This has been approved by the Texas courts and continues to be used by roughly half the districts in the state of Texas. The differentiated dress and grooming standards do not violate Title IX and are included in the student handbook each year. Magnolia ISD’s approach to the dress code reflects the values of our community at large,” school officials told KPRC in a statement in August.
The struggle between students, parents, and school officials have been going on for months, with students and parents slamming the policy in late August at a school board meeting as some students were starting to serve their first suspensions.
“I mean, it feels dehumanising to have a school, a government entity, force me to cut my hair and meet their expectations of appearances,” high school student Daniel Hoosier said, according to KPRC. He eventually decided to cut his hair.
“I feel like I lost a piece of myself when I was forced to cut it,” he added to the Houston Chronicle.
Another high school student, Tristan Berger, said: “I feel like I’m being discriminated against. I’ve actually dropped my AP physics class because I can’t attend the meetings they were doing during lunch because I was in in-school suspension. I’ve also lost hours of band practice.”
The ACLU noted in the suit that the policy can harm nonbinary students who may not identify as males even if that’s what their birth certificate says.
Texas lawmakers recently passed a bill that bans transgender students from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity. Republican Governor Greg Abbott said the bill would “protect the integrity of Texas high school sports” while a White House spokesperson told the Dallas Morning News that the law was “nothing more than bullying disguised as legislation and undermine[s] our nation’s core values”.
The lawsuit states that a 15-year-old high school student said his hair was “one of the only aspects of his life that he has full control over,” particularly during a pandemic that took the lives of his mother and grandmother.
An 11-year-old student that the legal filing identifies as TM is nonbinary but was identified as male at birth. Having long hair is “a critical component” in how they express their gender identity, court documents say. The child’s mother, Danielle Miller, said in a statement to The Post that the school district has “lost sight of what’s most important and keeps inflicting harm on our kids”.
“No student should be forced to conform to gender stereotypes or have their education upended because of that student’s gender,” Ms Miller added. “We will not be ignored nor go away quietly while our children are disciplined simply because of their gender.”
The students accuse school officials of “vigorously” issuing punishments such as days and at times weeks of in-school suspension, and sometimes sending students to other schools “typically reserved for students who have violated state or federal law or committed serious violations of school policies”, the lawsuit states, adding that the district didn’t supply transportation for the students sent to alternative schools.
The Independent has reached out to the Magnolia Independent School District for comment.
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