Mississippi School District Faces ACLU Title IX Complaint for Sex-Based Dress Code Policies

Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

By Kayla Garcia-Pebdani 

JACKSON, MS–The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint Wednesday with the U.S. Dept. of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against Harrison County (MS) School District’s dress code because it “perpetuates harmful stereotypes” discriminating against girls, transgender and gender nonconforming students.

The ACLU press statement said it filed the complaint on behalf of Kimberly Hudson and her daughter, A.H., who is a 16-year-old transgender student at Harrison Central High School. The high school’s dress code requires students “to follow the dress attire consistent with their biological sex,” the release notes.

Hudson’s daughter was threatened with school suspension after a school officer found A.H. clothed in a dress for a regional band concert evaluation, writes the ACLU, adding that despite A.H.’s objection, she was told to either wear pants or be unable to participate in the event as stated in the report.

Title IX claims discrimination based on sex in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance is prohibited, as noted by the ACLU pleading, which claims HSD enforcement of sex-specific dress code violates Title IX, and once again, perpetuates stereotypes, and exclusion amongst students.

McKenna Raney Gray, an LGBTQ Justice project staff attorney at the ACLU of Mississippi stated, “A.H.’s story is emblematic of other girls at Harrison County School District who have complained of the discriminatory dress code and hostile learning environment for LGBTQ+ students. HCSD has implemented sex-specific dress code policies that reinforce harmful sex stereotypes and create an environment where students are unfairly targeted and subjected to discriminatory enforcement practices.”

Gray adds, “(T)his has resulted in the loss of valuable class time, exclusion from school-sponsored events, and significant emotional distress for A.H. and other affected students.”

Similarly, Liza Davis, Skadden Fellow at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, charged, “Harrison County School District’s dress code forces students to follow rigid, binary sex stereotypes or risk being punished and excluded from school and extracurricular activities.”

Davis argued sex-specific “dress code policies that require students to dress according to their sex assigned at birth are harmful to all students, and especially transgender and gender nonconforming students who seek to dress in alignment with their gender identity and expression.”

According to the ACLU statement, the demands made by A.H. and her family include eliminating HCSD’s sex space distinctions, and other gendered language in its dress code policies, and discontinuing discriminatory dress code enforcement practices that target girls, transgender girls and gender nonconforming students.

The plaintiffs also request OCR to conduct an investigation into sex discrimination, and then take remedial steps to prevent further discrimination on the basis of sex in the future.

Kimberly Hudson said, “I’m deeply concerned about the discriminatory practices within Harrison County School District that have unfairly targeted my daughter, along with other students.

“Transgender and gender-nonconforming students should not be forced to choose between participating in school events or remaining true to their gender identity…(we) urge HCSD to take immediate steps to revise its dress code policies and create a more inclusive environment where all students can thrive.”

About The Author

Kayla Garcia-Pebdani is a fourth-year student at UC Davis, studying Political Science–Public Service with double minors in Human Rights and Professional Writing. She actively engages in social justice issues and advocacy through her roles as an intern for Article 26 Backpack, the Co-Lead for Students Demand Action at UC Davis, and her previous involvement with Catalyst California as a Government Relations Intern. Kayla hopes to further expand her knowledge and skills during her time with the Vanguard. Through her experiences, she aims to highlight injustices in everyday life and provide means for the public to stay aware and hopefully become inclined to get involved.

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