Despite Repeated Requests to End Unconstitutional Policy, School Officials Continue to Harshly Punish Students

HOUSTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the ACLU Women's Rights Project — on behalf of seven students — filed a lawsuit today against the Magnolia Independent School District for engaging in explicit gender discrimination.

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. Magnolia ISD enforces a dress code based on gender stereotypes that requires boys, but not girls, to wear short hair.

“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, ACLU of Texas staff attorney. “We have warned the district repeatedly that its gender-based hair policy violates the Constitution, but the district continues to derail students’ lives and deny their right to a public education free from discrimination. Magnolia ISD is failing to live up to its motto ‘to be the best district in the state of Texas,’ and the district needs to stop hurting its students.”

The school board has ignored requests by the plaintiffs and their families, the community, and the ACLU of Texas to change this outdated policy. Despite no compelling reason to keep a discriminatory hair policy in place, Magnolia ISD’s school board maintains a rule that hair “for male students” must be “no longer than the bottom of a dress shirt collar, bottom of the ear, and out of the eyes.” This violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Title IX because public school districts cannot treat some students worse because of their gender or require students to conform to gender stereotypes. Everyone has the right, regardless of their reason for doing so, to wear their hair how they would like without being discriminated against on the basis of gender.

“My son has never once gotten his hair cut,” said Azucena Laredo, whose 9-year-old son A.C. has been suspended for over a month from Magnolia ISD and pushed to unenroll from classes. “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.”

Many plaintiffs have worn long hair in the district for years without any issues until this school year, when Magnolia ISD started suspending students for wearing long hair. For example, T.M., an 11-year-old non-binary fifth grader who wears long hair as a core part of their gender identity, was suspended for nine days and still faces the threat of further punishment under Magnolia ISD’s gender-based hair policy.

“The district has lost sight of what’s most important and keeps inflicting harm on our kids,” said Danielle Miller, mother of T.M. “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.”

The plaintiffs are asking to return to the classroom and receive an education without being forced to cut their hair, and for Magnolia ISD to change its unlawful policy that discriminates based on gender.

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. In addition to engaging in explicit gender discrimination, 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.

A copy of the complaint is available here: https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/magnolia_isd_complaint.pdf

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