A recent letter from the American Civil Liberties Union is advising two Panola County schools to revise their dress codes because the guidelines appear discriminatory.
The ACLU sent letters to almost 500 Texas school districts, including Beckville and Elysian Fields ISDs. Other East Texas school districts receiving letters include Spring Hill, White Oak, Union Grove, Ore City, Overton, Harleton 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.”
Elysian Fields ISD said it had received a generic letter that did not address specific concerns. Beckville ISD did not respond to an email or phone call asking for comment.
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.
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.
Beckville ISD’s student handbook says “Male students’ hair shall not touch the top of the shoulders... A variety of hairstyles are acceptable if the following extremes are avoided: a. Mohawks, faux hawks, geometric or unusual patterns shaved or cut in the hair of males or females b. Ponytails or rattails on males.”
Beckville ISD also prohibits boys from wearing earrings or studs, and man buns are not allowed.
Elysian Fields ISD’s student handbook says “Male student’s hair should be cut above their eyebrows, above the collar of their shirt, and cut above the top of the ear lobe.” It also has gender-specific rules for specific hair styles: braids are allowed for girls, while boys cannot have afros or curly hair beyond three inches.
The Elysian Fields dress code also says tank tops for female students “must be minimum of 2 inches wide and are not allowed for male students” and “Earrings may not be worn by male students at school, school related events, or while traveling on school transportation.”