The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project sued Magnolia ISD on behalf of seven students over its gender-based hair policy Oct. 21, according to a news release from the ACLU of Texas. The suit alleges the district’s policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX.
MISD’s policy states boys' hair should not be longer than the bottom of their dress shirt collar.
“At a time when students have already been through so much due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is outrageous that Magnolia ISD administrators are pushing students out of school because of their gender and hair,” said Brian Klosterboer, the ACLU of Texas' staff attorney, in the release.
In a statement provided to Community Impact Newspaper on Oct. 21, the district said it is one of hundreds of other school districts in Texas that distinguish between male and female for dress and grooming standards.
"This system of differentiated dress and grooming standards have been affirmed by courts and does not inhibit equal access to educational opportunities under Title IX," the district said in the statement. "The rules are included in the student handbook each year and are similar to the codes of approximately half of the public school districts in Texas."
According to ACLU of Texas, 477 districts in the state had similar gender specific policies in September 2020. The organization sent letters to each of these districts at the time urging the districts to change their policies, according to the ACLU.
Students and parents have expressed concern about the policy during MISD’s board of trustees meetings since August. Despite dozens of public comments about the policy at meetings since then, the school board has not placed the policy on its agenda for discussion.
On Aug. 23, the ACLU of Texas sent a letter to the district urging it to change its policy, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported. At the time, Klosterboer told Community Impact Newspaper the ACLU of Texas was exploring its options if the district did not change its policy.
“We have warned the district repeatedly that its gender-based hair policy violates the [U.S.] Constitution, but the district continues to derail students’ lives and deny their right to a public education free from discrimination,” Klosterboer said in the Oct. 21 release. “Magnolia ISD is failing to live up to its motto ‘to be the best district in the state of Texas,’ and the district needs to stop hurting its students.”
In the lawsuit, the ACLU of Texas alleges the students have spent weeks in in-school suspension and have been sent to the district's Disciplinary Alternative Education Program due to hair length. Additionally, three of the seven students have temporarily removed themselves from the district because of punishments associated with the policy, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit alleges MISD has no rationale for the policy and the district arbitrarily enforces it. The suit alleges some members of the high school football teams have seemed to be allowed to wear their hair long while other students have been punished for doing so.
According to the news release, the students are asking to be able to return to the classroom without having to cut their hair and for the district to change its policy.
"Schools are regularly asked to provide exemptions or accommodations based on factors like religious practice, gender identity issues, or student accommodation plan due to disability. Magnolia ISD considers all factors set out in law when considering such requests," the district said in a statement.
The lawsuit, filed in the Houston Division of the U.S. District Court, asked the court for a temporary restraining order as well as preliminary and permanent injunctions to stop the district from enforcing the policy. It also asked the court to declare that MISD’s policy violates the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX, and award attorney’s fees and nominal damages.
The district said it is reviewing the claims raised in the lawsuit with legal counsel and is in the process of considering parent grievances on the matter.
"The administration and board are currently in the process of considering parent grievances on this subject matter. Magnolia ISD respects varying viewpoints, and we respect the rights of citizens to advocate for change," the district said in the statement.