Friday, November 5, 2021

Gimme a Head with Hair – What Is This, the 60’s?

The Magnolia, Texas 2021-22 student handbook states that hair must “be no longer than the bottom of a dress shirt collar, bottom of the ear, and out of the eyes for male students.” Hair also cannot “be pinned up in any fashion” or “worn in a ponytail or bun for male students.”

Nine boys of various ages have been suspended for violating this dress code and the ACLU has filed suit, claiming that the policy is improperly gender based.

The Texas school board defendants will have a couple of problems defending this suit. They are related to how the policy has been enforced. First, although the policy has been on the books for a number of years, it has never previously been enforced. Second, all of the disciplined students are members of minority groups or have different gender orientations. This would indicate ulterior motives for the new enforcement measures. Most notably, since this is Texas, members of the football team with long hair have not been bothered.

As recently as 2020, a federal judge in Houston found that two Black students were not required to cut their hair, which they wore in dreadlocks, to meet the school district’s dress code policy. In that case, which is ongoing, there were also indications that the dress code requirements were race related.

Some people are shaking their heads about the basis of the suit, suggesting that this part of a disturbing trend to blur the line between men and women. They miss the point.

The reason the ACLU used sex discrimination as the basis for the litigation is that this assures that the suit will not be dismissed for jurisdictional reasons. As the lawsuit proceeds, the true reason for enforcing the code—selective enforcement against particular groups—will come out. THAT is the point. This is well thought out litigation.

As an aside, I apologize that you had to read this with the tune from Hair going through your head.

UPDATE: Since this post was originally written last week, the defendants have agreed to an injunction that they will not enforce the questioned policy until the matter is resolved by the courts. This is an early indication that there may be some weaknesses in their original position.

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