Toolbox Tuesday: Picking your battles

A federal judge has ordered Barbers Hill ISD to release a student from ISS even though the student is not in compliance with the school’s dress code.  The student’s hair, at least when not held up by headbands, clips, or ribbons, extends below his ears, below the collar in fact.  The dress code in Barbers Hill prohibits that….but only for some of the students.  For boys.

The court held that the student was substantially likely to be successful with his claim of sex discrimination.   Citing Supreme Court precedent, the court held that the school could justify differential treatment of boys and girls only if there was a very strong reason to do so.  The school bore the burden of making an “exceedingly persuasive” case that its gender-based distinction served “important governmental objectives.” The school cited all the usual reasons for old-fashioned dress codes.  Hygiene.  Discipline. Respect for authority. A nice, clean cut look.  The court found none of that very compelling, citing the testimony of several school administrators who could not cite any disruption or other trouble that long hair on boys had produced.

There are many school districts with similar dress codes.  Leaders in those districts should be asking themselves the question we emphasize in Toolbox training: Is this worth fighting over?  In the Toolbox training our firm offers, we emphasize that litigation over discipline issues is costly in every sense of the word. It costs money, expends energy, uses up valuable time and resources, and damages important relationships.  We have a long history of litigation in Texas over boys’ hair.  Maybe this one will be the last.

Sex discrimination was not the only issue in this case, and not the only reason the case has drawn so much attention.  There were also racial and cultural heritage issues at stake. Come back to the Daily Dawg on Thursday for that.  The case is Arnold v. Barbers Hill ISD, decided by the federal court for the Southern District of Texas on August 17, 2019.     

One more personal note today: Happy Birthday to Walsh Gallegos Treviño Russo & Kyle P.C.!  We opened for business 37 years ago today. Still going strong, helping the people who help the kids. 


Tomorrow: Does the lawyer speak for the board?