LUBBOCK, Texas — Almost 500 school districts across the state received letters this month from the Texas arm of the American Civil Liberties Union, asking school districts to revise their dress code policies, citing them as “unconstitutional and discriminatory.”
The letters were sent to 40 different school districts in West Texas’ Region 17, including Idalou, Shallowater, Frenship, Roosevelt, and New Deal ISDs in Lubbock County.
The letter claims the districts could be open to lawsuits if they do not change their ‘outdated’ and ‘harmful’ rules, particularly rules regarding hair length for male and female students.
On the third day of sixth grade, Odessa Cazares’ son, King, went to school with a ponytail. At school, King was asked to remove his ponytail, and when King refused, he was sent to in-school suspension.
The school claimed that his hair violated the dress code, which states that male students are not allowed to have hair past their ears, a policy that Cazares says is discriminatory.
“Anyone that’s graduated the 12th grade knows this is discrimination. Period. It’s discrimination just because he’s a kid he still has. Like the letter says, he still has constitutional rights. I don’t care how old he is. He still has rights,” said Cazares.
This action from the ACLU comes on the heels of a court ruling that sparked a national conversation about dress codes. A Houston area school was blocked from enforcing their dress code, which said that male students keep their hair ear length or shorter. This rule sparked conversation after two Texas students were punished for wearing their hair in dreadlocks.
“We’ve seen it really affecting black students and people that had natural black hair. But we’ve also seen this issue affect native American students affect LGBTQ students and affect other students across the state,” said Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Texas, Brian Klosterboer.
Frenship ISD, here King goes to school, received one of these letters.
“Hair is such an intrinsic form of identity. It can identify your religion, your ethnicity, your culture and your background, so it really means a lot for these students,” said Klosterboer.
The ACLU encourages districts with similar policies to remove language that discriminates based on race or sex.
“Policies that might be neutral toward race on their face can contain implicit bias and contribute to systemic racism,” said Klosterboer.
Cazares hopes these rules will change so that all children can wear their hair how they please.
“We have bigger things to worry about. We have to wear these masks now to even talk to each other. Why are we worried about hair?” said Cazares.
King’s school now allows him to wear a man bun to school. Frenship ISD released a statement in response to the letter saying for comment: “Frenship ISD’s board has not had an opportunity to review the preliminary injunction case and its impact on the current state of the law and our dress and grooming code.”