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Seven students file federal lawsuit against Magnolia ISD, accusing it of gender discrimination

Magnolia ISD’s policy prohibits male students from wearing long hair.

Seven Magnolia ISD students filed a federal lawsuit against the district Thursday morning, alleging gender discrimination over a district-wide policy that prohibits boys — and not girls — from wearing long hair.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, says the seven students — six boys and one nonbinary student — were “subject to severe, ongoing, and escalating harms” after refusing to cut their hair.

As a result, the students were denied classroom instruction, barred from extracurricular activities, and in some cases, suspended and separated from their peers for over a month, the lawsuit read.

"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, an ACLU attorney. “The district needs to stop hurting its students."

According to the district’s 2021-2022 student handbook, a male student’s hair must be “no longer than the bottom of a dress shirt collar, bottom of the ear, and out of the eyes” and cannot “be pinned up in any fashion nor be worn in a ponytail or bun.”

These stipulations are not extended to the district’s female students.

If a student violates the district’s dress code, they could face in-school suspension or more serious disciplinary action, including being sent to an alternative education program, or being suspended completely, according to the district’s student code of conduct.

Attorneys for the students say the policy violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits the discrimination of students on the basis of gender.

However, Magnolia ISD has maintained that the policy complies with federal law, according to Denise Meyers, the district’s executive director of communications.

“Like hundreds of public school districts in Texas and across the country, MISD's rules for dress and grooming distinguish between male and female dress and grooming standards,” Meyers said. “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.”

Three students have unenrolled in the school district, while three others have decided to cut their hair in order to avoid further punishment, the lawsuit read.

A parent testifies against Magnolia ISD's policy prohibit male students from wearing long hair.
A parent testifies against Magnolia ISD's policy prohibit male students from wearing long hair.

The district temporarily paused enforcement against one nonbinary student, dubbed T.M. in the lawsuit due to their age, after the Houston Chronicle reported on the student’s experience in August. The pause is set to expire on Oct. 30.

Another student, 9-year-old A.C., had recently moved to Magnolia ISD when he was placed in in-school suspension for five weeks due to the length of his hair, according to court documents.

He was then sent to an alternative education program called DAEP, which is “typically reserved for students who have violated state or federal law or committed serious violations of school policies,” according to the lawsuit.

A.C.’s mother, Azucena Laredo, said she felt as though she had no choice but to unenroll her son from the district.

"My son has never once gotten his hair cut," Laredo said. “But Magnolia ISD has harshly punished my son and driven him out of school entirely because he is a boy with long hair. This is unconscionable and the district needs to stop harming our children."

The students’ families are asking for their children to be allowed back into the classroom without being forced to cut their hair, and for Magnolia ISD to stop enforcing the policy, according to the lawsuit.

Copyright 2021 Houston Public Media News 88.7. To see more, visit Houston Public Media News 88.7.

Lucio Vasquez
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