Danielle Miller hugs her child as the family prepares for school in their Magnolia home on Oct. 21, 2021. Miller’s child is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Magnolia Independent School District over its long-hair policy. The district has agreed to suspend the gender-based portions of its dress code. Credit: Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune

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The Magnolia Independent School District has suspended enforcement of gender-specific provisions in its dress code policy for all students until further notice amid pending litigation that argues the rules discriminate against boys who have long hair.

On Thursday, District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal granted a preliminary injunction that expanded relief to all Magnolia ISD students, including six boys and one nonbinary student who are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas in a recent lawsuit against the Houston-area school district over its gender-based dress code policy. Rosenthal had granted a previous injunction that offered relief to only four of the seven plaintiffs.

The ACLU of Texas accused the district of violating students’ equal protection under the 14th Amendment as well as Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education settings.

Rosenthal wrote that the new order “requires the District to immediately cease disciplinary consequences resulting from violation of gender-specific provisions of its dress and grooming code as to any student, including but not limited to in-school suspension or placement in the discipline alternative education program.”

Reference

Order granting preliminary injunction: Magnolia ISD hair policy

(112.2 KB)

Students who have faced repercussion under those provisions of the dress code “must be permitted to return to, and remain in, school with no further discipline, or other negative consequences, for wearing long hair or for violating any other gender-specific provision of the dress and grooming policy.”

Magnolia ISD declined to comment on the ruling.

According to the district’s 2021-2022 student handbook, male students’ hair must not be longer “than the bottom of a dress shirt collar [and] bottom of the ear.” Boys are also not allowed to wear their hair “pinned up in any fashion” and it can’t be worn in a ponytail or a bun.

In the ACLU of Texas’ lawsuit against the school district, some of the plaintiffs claim they were given in-school suspension because of their hair and eventually they were placed in an alternative discipline program outside of school, forcing some to unenroll from the district altogether. Some also claimed that the length of their hair had not been a problem before this school year.

In a statement, ACLU of Texas attorney Brian Klosterboer said students and families are relieved with Rosenthal’s most recent decision. Last month, Rosenthal wrote that the plaintiffs showcased a “likelihood of success” in their arguments against the district’s dress code policy concerning protections under the 14th Amendment and Title IX.

“This issue should have been swiftly corrected without the need for litigation, and the school board should end it by permanently changing this outdated and unconstitutional policy,” Klosterboer said.

The Texas Tribune

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