Texas ACLU finds most schools in state still have discriminatory dress codes

A report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas found that most public schools in the state still have discriminatory dress codes.

“After a comprehensive review of almost every Texas public school district’s dress code, we find that hundreds of these codes contain language that discriminated on the basis of race, gender, religion, and other protected characteristics and that uneven and targeted enforcement can disproportionately affect marginalized students,” the authors of the report wrote.

The report examined nearly 1,200 public and charter school dress codes in the state of Texas from the 2022-2023 academic year. It found that over half of the school districts mandated outdated gender norms, including through “boys-only hair length rules” in over 300.

More than 7 percent of the school districts examined in the report explicitly prohibited hairstyles and textures that are associated with race. About 80 percent of the school districts have vague and subjective hair standards, according to the report, which it said invite “discriminatory enforcement against certain student groups.”

More than 80 percent of school districts prohibit head coverings, many without clear religious exemptions, the report found.

It also found that nearly 80 percent of school districts prohibit worn, frayed or mis-sized clothing, which disproportionately affects low-income children.

“Our review of Texas dress codes and enforcement data reveals common mistakes, prejudices, and pitfalls in dress code drafting and implementation,” the ACLU of Texas said.

The organization recommended that discriminatory language should be removed from dress codes and they should be redesigned with a focus on inclusivity and equity, as well as clarity and specificity in their guidelines. It also urged that student expression should be encouraged within reasonable limits.

The report further recommended that the community should be involved in reviewing dress codes and that data on student demographics and dress code violations should be collected and training should be provided to school staff on equitable enforcement.

“Students’ freedoms to understand and express racial, gender, sexual, religious, and cultural identities are essential to the health of our democracy,” said Oni K. Blair, the executive director of the Texas ACLU. “As elected officials in our state work to restrict the books students read and the topics they learn about in the classroom, our commitment to protecting and celebrating self-expression must be stronger than ever.”

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