When it comes to talking about how archaic and oppressive school dress codes tend to be, the conversation usually centers around girls’ clothing in the classroom or to events, like prom or homecoming. One Texas district, however, has been hit with a federal lawsuit concerning six boys and one nonbinary student. At the center of the suit? The length of the students’ hair.
The Magnolia Independent School District in the Houston, Texas area apparently forbids male students from having hair longer than the bottom of the ear. This is in addition to requirements that male students cannot have long sideburns, a mustache, or a beard, and that students of all genders must keep their hair “clean” and “well-groomed,” including out of their eyes, as well as a “natural” color. With the help of the Texas ACLU, the students allege the district violated both Title IX and their constitutional rights, as reported by NBC News.
According to the students involved in the suit, who range from seven years old to seventeen, they were stopped from participating in extracurricular activities, denied classroom learning time, and even suspended for over a month. The suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the South District of Texas, argues students met these obstacles because they refuse to “conform” to the district’s “stereotypical notions of gender.”
Students are hoping to get an injunction to stop the policy from being enforced. According to ACLU attorney Brian Klosterboer, the students involved in this suit aren’t troublemakers and aren’t in any other form of trouble academically outside of this scenario.
One of the students involved is 11-year-old Tristan, who is nonbinary, and whose hair goes to their shoulders. According to Tristan’s mother, Danielle Miller, Tristan’s hair is “always clean” and kept out of their faces by using a ponytail or barrettes. Miller says that because the school (incorrectly) categorizes Tristan as male, their hairstyle has been an ongoing issue, including leading to the child being suspended for nine days. She doesn’t want to pull Tristan out of school but also doesn’t want to force her child to make a change when they feel confident with their hair the way it currently is.
One high schooler involved in the suit expressed that his hair is “one of the only aspects of his life that he has full control over,” given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as reported by the Washington Post. Which, according to the lawsuit, killed his mother and grandmother.
Denise Meyers, a spokesperson for the school, offered a statement on the situation via email to NBC News. Meyers stated the district “respects varying viewpoints” and the rights of “citizens to advocate for change.” Meyers added that schools are asked to accommodate student needs in terms of religion, disability, and so on and that the district “considers all factors set out in law when considering such requests.”
We’re in a literal pandemic. Policing how children (or, frankly, anyone) show up to school is ridiculous, provided the student isn’t wearing, say, a Confederate flag shirt. There is no reason a boy can’t wear his hair long, pull it up in a bun, dye it pink, or whatever else. There is no reason a nonbinary student should have to compromise their self-recognition just to meet arbitrary standards of a dress code. No family should have to turn to homeschool options or pay for private school over hair, just like no girls should be pulled from class over the width of their tank top straps.
It’s also worth pointing out that these guidelines can be subtle ways of enforcing systemic racism in the school system, such as by punishing the way students of color wear or present their hair. This can not only create emotional trauma in young people, but given that students of color already face higher rates of suspension and discipline (and even being arrested while at school), these murky rules could put their futures and lives at risk. Over what? Hair. Ridiculous.