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Judge temporarily blocks enforcement of Magnolia ISD’s gender-based hair policy

According to the lawsuit, the Magnolia ISD gender-based policy “imposed immense and irreparable harm” on the students.

MAGNOLIA, Texas — A judge has temporarily blocked enforcement of Magnolia ISD’s gender-based hair policy, allowing students to return to school without cutting their hair, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

Magnolia ISD mom Danielle Miller said she learned there was a problem with her 11 year-old’s hair on the second day of the school year.

EDITOR'S Note: The video above is from before the judge's ruling.

“Tristan has long hair about down to their shoulder,” said Miller.

Tristan is non-binary, which is something many people are still learning about.

“Tristan does not wholly feel like a boy or a girl," said Miller. "Sometimes they feel like both, sometimes they feel like neither. It’s gender fluid.”

She said the district, which considers Tristan a boy, placed the student in in-school suspension before agreeing to a grace period while issues were worked out.

'You have de-humanized me'

But Tristan is not the only student who’s been disciplined for wearing their hair too long.

The lawsuit names six male students, ages 7-17.

"You have de-humanized me and de-moralized me by forcing to cut my hair or remain in ISS,” said one student during a recent school board meeting.

"Many parents, 10, 15, 20 parents have spoke up about the dress code since August and we have been met with silence,” Miller said

According to the lawsuit, the Magnolia ISD gender-based policy “imposed immense and irreparable harm” on the students, some of whom claim they have worn long hair for years while attending school in the district without any repercussions.

'Really unconscionable'

The lawsuit says the students have been threatened with or sent to in-school suspension for weeks at a time. Some were placed in a “disciplinary alternative education program,” leading three of them to unenroll from the school district. The suit also states that while the plaintiffs have been disciplined for the length of their hair, other students with long hair, such as those on high school football teams, have not faced discipline.

“To be kicked out, pushed out, of school entirely simply because of their gender and their hair is really unconscionable,” ACLU of Texas staff attorney Brian Klosterboer said.

Magnolia ISD responds to lawsuit

According to Magnolia ISD’s 2021-22 student handbook, 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.”

However, the ACLU argues many of the plaintiffs have worn long hair for years while enrolled in Magnolia ISD and have not faced any discipline until this year, the Texas Tribune reports.

Klosterboer said some school districts in Texas tend to rely on “old and outdated case law” as the basis for their dress code policies.

Magnolia ISD issued a statement saying that it looks forward to addressing the matter in 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 district said in a statement. "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."

According to Magnolia ISD’s 2021-22 student handbook, 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.”

However, there’s no information regarding why students with long hair may not have been disciplined in previous years as they claim.

"It could have absolutely been avoided,” said Miller.

Magnolia ISD's full statement:

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.

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Our news partners at the Texas Tribune contributed to this report.