ACLU files lawsuit against Magnolia ISD over 'gender-based hair' discrimination

A lawsuit against Magnolia ISD has been filed under what the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas, as well as the ACLU Women's Rights Project, is calling a hair policy that engages in ‘explicit gender discrimination’ against students. 

RELATED: 7th grader told braids are unacceptable, he can't play football

The suit, which was filed Thursday on behalf of seven students, alleges students have been "severely punished…and, in some cases, forced them out of school altogether, because of their gender and the fact that they wear long hair." 

A press release from the ACLU states "Magnolia ISD enforces a dress code based on gender stereotypes that require boys, but not girls, to wear short hair." 

According to the district's 2021-2022 handbook, its stance on hair reads as the following: 

  • Be expected to maintain appropriate hygiene at all times.
  • Be kept clean, well-groomed, and worn out of the eyes.
  • Be of natural hair color.
  • Be no longer than the bottom of a dress shirt collar, bottom of the ear, and out of the eyes for male students.
  • Not be pinned up in any fashion nor be worn in a ponytail or bun for male students.
  • Be monitored and adjusted appropriately when students participate in a class where asafety hazard or health code must be considered.
  • Not be allowed if the hairstyle is deemed a distraction by administration (i.e., Mohawks,tails, designs shaved in hair).
  • Shaven with regards to facial hair. No beards or mustaches of any style are allowed on students.
  • Sideburns may not be longer than the bottom of the ear.

MORE: Allowing ethnic hairstyles in schools, time to create a law? What's Your Point?

Parents, however, tell the ACLU long hair has been worn in the past for years without any issues until this year. One 9-year-old student, for example, who was only identified as A.C., was suspended for more than a month and reportedly pushed to unenroll from classes. 

"My son has never once gotten his hair cut," said Azucena Laredo, his mother told ACLU. "His dad and uncle both wear long hair. His sister even wears long hair at the same school as him without any problem. 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."

RELATED: Teen at center of dreadlocks controversy withdraws from Barbers Hill ISD

The ACLU also notes some hypocrisy in the punishments saying the policies are not distributed evenly. 

"These discriminatory policies tend to target students who do not conform to outdated notions of gender, students of color who wish to express their cultural identity, and students from various religious backgrounds," the ACLU added in its press release. "Magnolia ISD has also applied its policy unevenly, even among boys, to permit some members of the high school football teams to keep wearing long hair."

ACROSS TEXAS: Texas legislators voice support for CROWN Act

Parents say they are asking to have their children return to class without having to cut their hair, and for Magnolia ISD to change its hair policy.

"The district has lost sight of what’s most important and keeps inflicting harm on our kids," Danielle Miller, another parent of an MISD student said. "No student should be forced to conform to gender stereotypes or have their education upended because of that student’s gender. Parents, students, and members of our community have filed grievances and spoken at Magnolia ISD school board meetings to tell the district to stop punishing our kids and change the policy. We will not be ignored nor go away quietly while our children are disciplined simply because of their gender."

In response to the lawsuit, the district shared the following statement with FOX 26: 

"Magnolia ISD has received a copy of a federal lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today, October 20, challenging the MISD student dress and grooming standards.  The District is reviewing the claims raised in the lawsuit with its legal counsel and looks forward to the opportunity to respond to the
Court.  Magnolia ISD’s Board of Trustees and Administration have heard from a small group of parents who have recently raised questions about MISD dress and grooming standards.  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. 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.  Specifically, the MISD dress and grooming code requires male students to keep their hair "no longer than the bottom of a dress shirt collar." 

"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 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. 

"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."