Watch: Male, Non-Binary Students Sue Texas School District for Long Hair Suspensions

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday October 22, 2021

Seven students are suing a Houston school district
Seven students are suing a Houston school district  (Source:Screenshot/NBC News)

Six male students, and one non-binary student, are suing after being suspended by a Houston, Texas school district for refusing to cut their hair short in conformity with a dress code they say is discriminatory, local newspaper the Houston Chronicle said.

NBC News reported that the suit describes the situation as follows: "They have been denied classroom instruction, barred from extracurricular activities, and forced to be suspended and separated from their peers for well over a month simply because these students do not conform to Magnolia ISD's stereotypical notions of gender."

That, the suit says, is a violation of "both their constitutional rights and Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools," NBC News detailed.

In all, seven students are represented in the suit, which alleges that Magnolia Independent School District (ISD) inflicted "severe, ongoing, and escalating harms" on them, the Chronicle story said. Among the seven students are a fourth-grader and several high school students, ranging in age from 7 to 17.

11-year-old Tristan is among the students represented in the suit. Non-binary — but classified as male by the district — Tristan "feels strong and confident with long hair," their mother, Danielle Miller, told NBC News. "Sometimes they like to wear a ponytail or barrettes," Miller added.

One 9-year-old Latino student keeps his hair long "as part of a proud family tradition that includes the children's father and uncle," the Chronicle said. The punishments inflicted on him by Magnolia ISD for this infraction have included "more than a month on in-school suspension," as well as being shipped off to "a disciplinary alternative program, without a bus to get there."

"Now he is being home-schooled," the article added.

The school district's enforcement of the policy — which is part of the dress code, and specifies that male students cannot have hair longer than the bottom of their shirt collar — has been erratically enforced in the past, the Chronicle story said, with one high school junior, referred to as T.J., never having had a problem before this year. Meantime, a lawyer for the students alleged, the district has allowed some football players to flout the rule.

Moreover, attorneys involved in the suit say that the students being affected "are not academically troubled or would otherwise be considered problem students," NBC News reported, yet the punishments they face are "detrimental to the students' learning."

Some of the students fighting the restriction spoke at an Oct. 18 school board meeting, NBC News said in a report that identified several of the students by name. One, Tristan Berger, said that he had dropped a physics class because he was required to be in detention during lunch, when his group from the class met.

Another student, Daniel Hoosier, spoke to the non-academic, but still significant, impact of the district's stance. "It feels dehumanizing" for the school to impose a requirement about the length of his hair, Hoosier said.

To view the NBC News clip, follow this link.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.