The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas urged Magnolia ISD to change its grooming standards for boys in a letter to the district Aug. 23. The letter claims the policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Title IX and the First Amendment.

MISD’s policy states the hair length for boys should not be longer than the bottom of a dress shirt collar. The policy also states students may be placed in in-school suspension until the problem is corrected.

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney for ACLU Texas, said the policy seems to be enforced in some cases and not others. Klosterboer said rather than forcing all students to cut their hair to meet the current guideline, ACLU Texas wants the district to change the policy altogether.

“We think every student should be allowed to wear long hair,” Klosterboer said in an interview Aug. 30. “If certain people are allowed to wear long hair, it should apply to everyone regardless of gender.”

ACLU Texas said it is especially concerned with how the district is handling the case of a nonbinary fifth-grade student.

“We ask that Magnolia ISD immediately stop disciplining [the fifth-grade student] for expressing their gender identity, stop disciplining [the student] and other students for not conforming to gender stereotypes, and undergo a process to remove all gender stereotypes from the district’s dress and grooming code,” the organization said in the letter.

Students express concerns

At MISD’s board of trustees meeting Aug. 23, more than a dozen students and parents spoke out against the policy and asked the district to change it.

“I am quite frankly appalled by the policies put forth by this school board,” MISD student Daniel Hoosier said. “You have dehumanized me and demoralized me by forcing me to cut my hair or remain in [in-school suspension].”

Tristan Berger, a student at Magnolia High School, said he was forced to drop his AP physics class because he could not attend mandatory meetings while placed in in-school suspension for his hair length.

As the concerns were brought up during the public comment period, MISD board members and staff were unable to discuss the issue.

According to ACLU Texas, MISD—as well as about 500 other school districts in the state—first received a letter regarding the policy in September 2020.

Klosterboer said the organization sent another letter to MISD in August due to the district's enforcement of the policy and continual placement of students in in-school suspension.

Neighboring districts' policies

Neighboring districts Waller ISD and Tomball ISD also received the ACLU’s letter in September 2020, according to the ACLU’s website. While WISD's student handbook no longer contains the boys-only hair length policy, TISD's handbook does.

WISD did not respond to requests for comment before publication.

“Tomball ISD follows all legal and local policies when enforcing its dress code,” TISD said in a statement Sept. 1.

Klosterboer said the organization’s goal is not to threaten the district but to work with MISD to change the policy.

“That’s what we’ve been doing across the state is working collaboratively with school districts so that they can focus on learning and addressing other problems,” Klosterboer said.

MISD declined to comment.

New TASB guidance

In August, the Texas Association of School Boards released guidance regarding the restriction of hair lengths and having different grooming standards for males and females. TASB said districts can restrict hair lengths, but having separate grooming standards based on gender may not be legal.

The document recommended districts collaborate with their communities to form grooming standards and refrain from gender-based grooming policies.

“As a practical matter, gender-neutral standards may be the best way to provide clear and consistent rules for campus administrators, avoid arbitrary enforcement and promote equity for all students,” TASB wrote.

Klosterboer said ACLU Texas is currently working with the parents and families to file grievances. He said the organization is exploring possible next steps if the district does not stop enforcing its grooming policy and change the policy.

“It could be both very time consuming and ultimately very expensive for the school district to enforce this discriminatory and outdated rule,” Klosterboer said.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of ACLU Texas' attorney Brian Klosterboer. The story has been updated to include the correct spelling.