A Texas high school is facing backlash for instituting a restrictive dress code on parents, with critics of the new rules accusing the principal of racism and classism.
Parents of students at James Madison High School in Houston are barred from wearing leggings and hair bonnets when they enter the school.
“Parents, we do value you as a partner in your child’s education,” the school’s principal, Carlotta Outley Brown, said in a memo to her district, according to the Houston Chronicle. “However, please know we have to have standards, most of all we must have high standards.”
The “parent dress code” threatens to turn away parents who show up wearing certain restricted items, including bonnets, pajamas, hair rollers, “sagging pants,” and leggings — clothing more often worn by women. (It’s worth noting that the school is named for a U.S. president who definitely enjoyed wearing super-tight pants that would now be considered leggings.)
The controversial new rules were put in place after an administrator wouldn’t allow a mother in to register her child earlier this month because she was wearing a headscarf and short T-shirt dress, according to the local KPRC2 station. Upset, the mother demanded to know whether a dress code prohibited parents from wearing headscarves or short dresses.
“I wanted to see proof of where it says parents can come dressed a certain way, but it wouldn’t show me that,” Joselyn Lewis told the TV station. “I wouldn’t leave, so they called the police department.”
Some in the community consider the new dress code insulting, according to the Houston Chronicle. Tomiko Miller, an African-American mother at the school, told the paper she thought it was discriminatory, because if it’s “misty outside and I have a hair bonnet on, I don’t see how that’s anyone’s business.” The rule also only applies to James Madison High School — a majority low-income, minority school — and leaves other schools in the district without a parent dress code.
“This is ELITISM and RESPECTABILITY POLITICS [Outley Brown] should be fired,” Ashton P. Woods, a founder of Black Lives Matter Houston, wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “Most of the parents likely cannot afford to comply with this dress code. This is not 1984.”
School dress codes have long been criticized for penalizing children of color, according to the National Women’s Law Center. They are particularly hard on girls, which the organization says risks “sending dangerous messages to the school community: How a girl looks is more important than what she thinks, and girls are ultimately responsible for the misbehavior of boys.” That often extends to girls’ hair. For instance, schools have punished girls for wearing braids, locks, or even their natural curls.
“I’m sorry: This principal may have plenty of money and time to go to the hairdresser weekly and have her stuff done,” Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, told the Houston Chronicle. “Who are you to judge others who may not have the same opportunities that you do? Having a wrap on your head is not offensive. It should not be controversial.”
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