ACLU: Most Texas schools have discriminatory dress code policies

According to the report, over half of the Texas districts surveyed mandated and reinforced gender norms like how a long boy’s hair could be.

HISD, Wheatley High School, 8-26-19, Students
Chris Paul | Houston Public Media

Most Texas schools still have discriminatory dress code policies, according to a new report from the ACLU.

Caro Achar is the engagement coordinator on the policy and advocacy team at the ACLU of Texas. She said the organization collected data from over 1,100 schools mostly from the 2022-2023 school year, and there were a few common terms that came up in various dress code policies.

“Modesty, cleanliness, well-kept, hygienic, language that doesn’t inherently sound charged but when applied, that language of modesty is oftentimes used to discriminate against students,” she said.

According to the report, over half of the Texas districts surveyed mandated and reinforced gender norms like how a long boy’s hair could be. A little over 7% of Texas districts “prohibit or restrict racially significant hairstyles.” In the Houston area, one case in particular from Barbers Hill ISD has received attention for potentially violating the CROWN Act. The CROWN Act, which went into effect in September of last year, prohibits hair-based racial discrimination in public schools.

“[Darryl George has been told that he’s not allowed to return to school until he cuts his locs, which he refuses to do because they’re a part of his culture and his identity,” Achar said. “… Barbers Hill ISD is still finding a way through their boys-only hair length rules to discriminate against Darryl George in pretty direct violation of what the CROWN Act was intending to accomplish.”

Black students also tended to be targeted more, Achar said.

“Black students are significantly more likely to face disciplinary action as related to the dress code,” she said.

The report shows Black students were involved in around 30% of documented disciplinary action, but made up only around 12% of the surveyed student population.

In Spring Branch ISD, the ACLU said one female student was discriminated against for training in a sports bra despite some of the male students training without a shirt on. According to the report, girls have received over 60% of the documented disciplinary actions despite making up a little less than half of the surveyed student population.

“Our report reveals that hundreds of Texas school districts use discriminatory and harmful dress codes, which threaten students’ academic outcomes and violate their rights to self-expression and equal treatment,” co-author and attorney with the ACLU of Texas Chloe Kempf said in a press release. “No student should lose class time, miss out on extracurriculars, or be made to feel shame because of how they dress or wear their hair. We’re calling for Texas school districts to update their dress and grooming codes in accordance with state and federal law and adopt fair and inclusive policies that allow all students – no matter their race, gender, or background – to learn and thrive.”