School Suspends Students For Long Hair — Judge Intervenes

·3 min read
Magnolia West High School
Magnolia West High School

A judge in Texas has temporarily blocked a school district’s policy that mandates short hair for boys but not girls.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and the law firms of Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi, & Mensing PC and Susman Godfrey LLP had filed suit against the Magnolia Independent School District, near Houston, on behalf of seven students who had been harmed by the policy.

“The school district has severely punished students and, in some cases, forced them out of school altogether, because of their gender and the fact that they wear long hair,” notes a press release from the ACLU of Texas.

The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Then Tuesday, Chief Judge Lee H. Rosenthal signed a temporary restraining order barring the school district from enforcing the policy against four students who had been disciplined for violating it, including being kicked out of their regular in-person classes. The three other students in the suit had cut their hair and avoided discipline, so the order does not apply to them, but they are free to seek a restraining order “if or when their hair length exceeds the School District’s policy and they face disciplinary consequences because of their hair length,” she wrote.

The order remains in effect until the conclusion of a hearing on the ACLU’s request for a preliminary injunction, which would block the policy for a longer time. That hearing is set for November 10.

“Students and parents in Magnolia ISD can breathe a sigh of relief that the district’s harmful and discriminatory hair policy will stop being enforced against them,” ACLU of Texas attorney Brian Klosterboer said in a news release. “Our plaintiffs can now return to school as this unjust policy is paused by the court. The district should never have violated these students’ constitutional rights in the first place or forced them to conform to gender stereotypes. Magnolia ISD still has a chance to scrap this policy and treat students equally. We hope that other districts in Texas with outdated policies will swiftly fix them and not follow in Magnolia’s footsteps of unconstitutionally punishing students based solely on gender and gender stereotypes.”

Danielle Miller, mother of a nonbinary fifth-grader, identified as T.M. in the suit, also expressed relief that her child will be at least temporarily protected from punishment over their hair length. “I’m thrilled that my child and so many other students at Magnolia will be able to attend classes, at least for now, without fear of punishment for how they express themselves,” she said in the ACLU release. No student should be discriminated against based on their gender. I’m inspired by how our local community has risen up to fight for the rights of our kids. Still, it’s frustrating that Magnolia refuses to simply change this outdated policy. I hope today’s ruling is a sign that change will finally come to the school district.”

The Texas ACLU had asked Magnolia ISD several times to voluntarily change the policy, the most recent request being in a letter sent to the district in August, also signed by Lambda Legal and Equality Texas. The policy was not enforced vigorously during the 2020-2021 school year, as dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic was a higher priority for the district, but it has stepped up enforcement this fall.

The students represented by the ACLU have a good chance of succeeding in their suit when it receives a full hearing, Rosenthal wrote in granting the restraining order. “The court finds that the plaintiffs established a substantial likelihood of success in showing that the Magnolia Independent School District’s gender-based policy on hair length violates the plaintiffs’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,” she wrote. Title IX bans gender discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding, which almost every school in the U.S. does.