Leaders of two Longview-area school districts say they have no immediate plans to change their dress codes after receiving a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union advising them the guidelines appear discriminatory.
The ACLU sent letters this past week to almost 500 Texas school districts. Spring Hill and White Oak ISDs received letters, as well as Union Grove, Beckville, Ore City, Overton, Harleton, Elysian Fields and Waskom ISDs.
“We write to inform you that your school district’s dress and grooming code appears to contain provisions that were recently declared unconstitutional by a federal court in Texas,” the letter said. “We ask that you revise your dress code to ensure that it conforms to federal law and does not contain any restrictions that discriminate against students based on sex, race, or religion.”
The letter cites the De’Andre Arnold vs. Barbers Hill Independent School District case. In August, a federal judge prevented that school district from enforcing a dress code that does not allow male students to grow their hair past their ears, according to the Texas Tribune.
“The court found that gender-specific grooming codes violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” the ACLU letter states.
The ACLU also said that, in August, the Texas Association of School Boards updated its guidance to encourage schools not to enforce gender-specific grooming codes.
Spring Hill ISD’s dress code states boys’ hair “shall be clean, well-groomed and subject to administrative approval. Hair in the back must not fall below mid-collar. Hair on the sides must not fall below the ear. Hair shall not fall below the eyebrows or cover the eyes. Hair cannot be aided by rubber bands, hair pieces or put into a ponytail to meet the dress code.”
The girls’ grooming code for hair states it “shall be clean, well-groomed and subject to administrative approval. Hair shall not cover eyes.”
Superintendent Wayne Guidry said the district is consulting with its legal counsel on the next steps after receiving the letter.
He said the district is attempting to get more information on the Barbers Hill ISD ruling to determine if action is needed. Changing the dress code does not need school board approval.
“Just because the board doesn’t have to approve it doesn’t mean we won’t communicate with them,” Guidry said. “Great decisions come with good information, and that’s what we’re trying to do now is get good information.”
The White Oak ISD grooming code in the 2019-20 high school student handbook states “hair shall be kept neat, clean and well-groomed and not disrupt the learning environment. Boys’ hair will not extend below the eyebrows, below the earlobes, or below the top of the tee shirt. Boys may not wear spiked hair, mohawks of any type, rat tails, pony tails, man buns or headbands. Girls many not wear spiked hair or mohawks of any kind. No extreme hairstyles are allowed including unnatural hair dyes or colors and cuts.”
Superintendent Brian Gray the district reviews dress code and policies in the summer, and that is when it would review any changes with direction from the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Education Agency.
The ACLU letter also refers to a local dress code issue from October when Tatum ISD parents urged the school to change its dress code so their children could wear their long hair in dreadlocks. Two women and their lawyer said in a hearing with the school board that the dress code was discriminatory against black students and boys.
The district changed its policy in November and did not receive a letter from the ACLU.