ACLU Reprimands Houston School District for Discriminatory Treatment Towards Girls’ Sports Team, Black Student Athlete

Spring Woods High School Texas By WhisperToMe – Own work, Public Domain, via

By Sunny Zhou

HOUSTON, TX – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas this past week sent the Spring Branch Independent School District a warning letter for their “mistreatment” of a student athlete who raised concerns with the Spring Woods High athletics program’s “discriminatory” treatment of the girls’ cross country team.

G.H. is a junior at Spring Woods High School and the only Black student-athlete on the girls’ cross-country and track teams. And, according to the ACLU letter, after her parents questioned the District’s change in dress code policy requiring athletes to wear shirts, District employees across multiple meetings rationalized “it’s inappropriate to be showing skin as a high school student” and that they did not want “any boobs, butts, or bellies out.”

“Later, when both the girls’ and boys’ cross-country teams were practicing on a hot August day, a boy was permitted to practice shirtless without issue,” according to the ACLU. “When G.H. attempted to practice in her sports bra to prevent heat exhaustion and maintain comfort during an intense workout, she was immediately reprimanded and told to put her shirt back on.”

The letter details how G.H. also raised concerns about the different treatment of the boys and girls teams, such as when “coaches routinely yell out split times to the boys, and not to the girls, so that boy athletes know their paces, but girl athletes do not,” or when “coaches…routinely acknowledge and even praise the boys for their performances during practices and running meets, but provide no feedback to the girls about their performances.”

The ACLU wrote how after raising concerns about dress code policy and coaching disparities, “the head cross-country coach’s behavior toward [G.H.] changed…[he] started to dismiss her when she asked questions and, at times, even walked away in the middle of G.H. speaking to him. If G.H. asked him to repeat an instruction, he would give her contradictory information.”

The letter continued, “This mistreatment escalated again at the 2021 Winter Sports Banquet, when…coaches denied G.H. an award for being the top runner on the girls’ cross-country team, an important credential for college applications and recruiting” despite her retaining the top performance record on the girl’s team and possessing perfect attendance.

The ACLU warned the District’s policies may be a violation of the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which prohibits differential treatment based on “gender stereotypes or ‘overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females.’”

“Significantly, the District’s enforcement of the dress code only when G.H. – the only Black runner on the girls’…teams – participated indicates it is engaging in racially discriminatory practices,” the ACLU added. “Black girls are often subject to ‘adultification bias’, or being perceived as ‘less innocent, more adult’ and ‘being more sexually active than others their age.’”

Liza Davis of the ACLU Women’s Right Project noted, “The discrimination G.H. faced is unfortunately all too common for Black girls in our country’s schools, and dress codes are often the excuse schools hide behind for that mistreatment.”

“Her coaches’ mistreatment and discriminatory conduct has severely diminished her love for the sport,” the ACLU wrote, “and their failure to coach G.H. and her teammates has negatively impacted her chances of gaining an athletic scholarship for college.”

“I had faith that the people meant to protect us would do so and do right by us,” G.H. said. “Me stepping forward for my teammates may never benefit me, but it will benefit the next young woman of color that looks like me.”


About The Author

Sunny is a third year Political Science student at UC Davis. She is passionate about the intersection between law, justice, and creative media. In her spare time, she enjoys watching films, playing TTRPGs, and creating animated shorts.

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