Danielle Miller hugs her child as the family prepares for school in their home in Magnolia on Oct. 21, 2021. “We hope today’s result will be a sign to other school districts in Texas that changing discriminatory policies like these is the right thing to do,” said Miller, whose child was named in a suit against Magnolia ISD over its gender-based policy on long hair. Credit: Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

A Houston-area school district has reversed a dress code policy that prohibited male and nonbinary students from wearing long hair — more than a month after a lawsuit accused the district of enforcing a discriminatory rule.

The Magnolia Independent School District’s school board voted on Monday night to alter its dress code and eliminate the policy, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. The ACLU of Texas said the district reached a settlement agreement that allows for students who were previously disciplined under the school’s former hair policy to “have their records expunged.”

The district confirmed Tuesday that under the agreement, male students will no longer have to keep their hair within a certain length. It will also make its dress code policy on earrings gender-neutral. The district’s 2021-2022 student handbook currently says earrings should be worn only by female students and “earrings worn by boys will be confiscated and may not be returned to the student.”

The ACLU of Texas announced in October it was suing the district on behalf of seven students over the district’s hair policy, which stated that hair must “be no longer than the bottom of a dress shirt collar, bottom of the ear, and out of the eyes for male students.” The lawsuit claimed the district violated students’ right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions that receive federal dollars.

In a temporary ruling in late October, Chief Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas said plaintiffs’ legal arguments had “a substantial likelihood of success.” Last month, Rosenthal issued a preliminary injunction that required the district to suspend enforcement of gender-specific provisions in its dress and grooming code.

Brian Klosterboer, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, said the school board’s decision Monday might lead other school districts across the state to take a closer look at their gender-based dress code policies and reconsider them.

“School districts shouldn’t wait until students are actually harmed under these policies, and they’ve been forced to file complaints or lawsuits,” Klosterboer said. “They should take proactive steps to update their dress codes in accordance with federal law.”

Concerns over dress codes have sprouted across Texas school districts in recent years, with the ACLU of Texas estimating that nearly 500 of the state’s more than 1,200 districts have “outdated and unconstitutional dress codes.”

The issue has already attracted legal scrutiny in other parts of the state. Barbers Hill ISD near Houston was sued last year after two Black students who wore their hair in dreadlocks were punished for breaking the district’s hair policy for male students. The case is still ongoing, and a preliminary injunction was issued in August 2020 that suspended enforcement of the hair policy.

Danielle Miller, whose child Tristan is nonbinary and was one of the seven plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Magnolia ISD, said in a statement she and her family are relieved by the district’s decision to get rid of its hair length policy.

“Our community never gave up fighting to put an end to this harmful policy,” Miller said. “We hope today’s result will be a sign to other school districts in Texas that changing discriminatory policies like these is the right thing to do.”

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.

Leave a comment

Welcome to the discussion.

• Transparency. Your full name is required.

• Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.

• PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.

• Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.

• Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.

• Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.

• Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article -- and receive photos, videos of what you see.

• Don’t be a troll. Don’t be a troll.

• Don’t post inflammatory or off-topic messages, or personal attacks.