A fifth-grade Magnolia student practices on the piano before school in their Magnolia home. The ACLU is representing six boys and a nonbinary student who were disciplined for having long hair. Credit: Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune

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A federal judge has temporarily ordered that some Magnolia Independent School District students disciplined for violating a dress code ban on boys having long hair can return to class without facing further consequences.

The temporary ruling from Chief Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas comes after the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas sued the Houston-area school district last week over its gender-based policy on behalf of seven students, including six boys and one nonbinary student ages 7-17. The plaintiffs claimed that because they wore long hair, they received harsh disciplinary action including being threatened with or sent to in-school suspension for weeks at a time. Some students were placed in an alternative disciplinary program outside of school that led to them unenrolling from the district.

Rosenthal signed the temporary restraining order Tuesday after issuing an oral ruling in a hearing Monday. Rosenthal wrote in her decision that four of the plaintiffs could return to school without facing disciplinary consequences over the district’s dress code policy, and the district is halted from enforcing previously imposed sanctions.

The temporary relief was denied for the remaining three plaintiffs, all whom have cut their hair after the threat of discipline, with one of them being placed in in-school suspension. The judge left the door open for those three plaintiffs to seek relief in the future “if or when their hair length exceeds the School District’s policy and they face disciplinary consequences because of their hair length.”

The temporary relief granted this week, which followed the conclusion of a preliminary injunction hearing, will remain in effect until Nov. 10.

Reference

Temporary Restraining Order: Magnolia ISD hair policy

(130.7 KB)

The ACLU of Texas argued that Magnolia ISD’s dress code policy violates equal protection under the 14th Amendment and goes against Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination in education institutions on the basis of sex.

In Tuesday’s order, Rosenthal wrote that the “plaintiffs have established a substantial likelihood of success” in their argument concerning violation of rights under the 14th Amendment.

“The Court further finds that Plaintiffs have established that this gender-based hair policy is substantially likely to violate Title IX,” Rosenthal wrote.

Magnolia ISD did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the temporary ruling.

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney for the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement the judge’s ruling will allow the students to stop conforming to “gender stereotypes.”

“Magnolia ISD still has a chance to scrap this policy and treat students equally,” Klosterboer said. “We hope that other districts in Texas with outdated policies will swiftly fix them and not follow in Magnolia’s footsteps of unconstitutionally punishing students based solely on gender and gender stereotypes.”

Danielle Miller’s 11-year-old nonbinary child was one of the plaintiffs granted temporary relief. Miller said in a statement Monday she was “thrilled” by the judge’s ruling.

“No student should be discriminated against based on their gender,” Miller said. “I’m inspired by how our local community has risen up to fight for the rights of our kids. Still, it’s frustrating that Magnolia refuses to simply change this outdated policy. I hope [Monday’s] ruling is a sign that change will finally come to the school district.”

The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is the only member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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