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A High School Has A New Dress Code For Parents And It's Being Called Discriminatory

The dress code bans satin caps and bonnets, which are commonly worn by black women to protect their hair.

Posted on April 25, 2019, at 11:05 a.m. ET

Marie D. De Jesus / AP

Carlotta Outley Brown, principal of James Madison High School.

A Houston high school has implemented a new dress code — but this one is for the parents.

At James Madison High School, parents are no longer permitted on school grounds wearing satin caps or bonnets, hair rollers, pajamas, or leggings. Anything revealing, such as low-cut tops, sagging pants, short-shorts, and "dresses that are up to your behind" are also banned.

According to a letter from Principal Carlotta Outley Brown, parents who show up in the forbidden attire won't be allowed in the school until they return in different clothes.

“We are preparing your child for a prosperous future,” Brown wrote. “We want them to know what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for any setting they may be in.”

The letter was sent to parents a day after a local news station reported that a mother was turned away from the school after she showed up in a T-shirt dress and headscarf.

Mother claims she wasn't allowed to enroll daughter in school due to outfit https://t.co/uzLGoRtvPd #kprc2 #HouNews

Joselyn Lewis, who was there to enroll her daughter in classes, said she thought an administrator had mistaken her for a student when she wasn't allowed in due to her clothing.

“She went on to say that she still couldn’t let me on the premises because I was not in dress code and I still didn’t understand what that meant,” Lewis told KPRC 2 Houston. “She said that my headscarf was out of dress code and my dress was too short.”

Lewis said she was wearing the headscarf because she was in the process of getting her hair done. Headscarves, as well as the banned satin caps and bonnets, are commonly worn by black women to protect their hair.

When she refused to leave and asked to see a written dress code, they called the police on her, she said. The letter detailing the dress code was sent out the next day.

“I’m not saying that it’s a part of my religion, but it could have been, but I just wanted to have it up," Lewis said. "Who are you to say that I can’t wear my hair up? In a scarf? Who are you to tell me how to dress?”

A spokesperson for the Houston Independent School District declined to comment, and Brown did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, told CNN the policy "seems a little classist."

"Having body parts exposed is one thing. Turning someone away because their hair's in rollers ... is a little ridiculous," Capo said. "This is an issue of a principal issuing a dictatorial edict rather than having substantive conversation."

The policy is facing widespread criticism, with many people calling it discriminatory for how it disproportionately targets black women.

Trying to figure out how bonnets are disruptive and how a hair covering makes an educational environment less educational. The fact that folks can’t see the misogynoir in this parent dress code policy is just...

Roni Burren, who teaches at the University of Houston, pointed out how white women don't tend to get kicked out of their kids' schools for "wearing leggings and wet yoga hair."

"But folks is OBSESSED with policing Black women's bodies," Burren tweeted. "It's disturbing."

I’ll stop here but let me add one last thing: I want all y’all to realize that nobody says anything about Becky™️ wearing leggings and wet yoga hair to their kids’ school. But folks is OBSESSED with policing Black women’s bodies. It’s disturbing.

Some have directed their criticism toward the principal, who is a black woman.

"Reminder you can be Black and still create, write, enact & enforce anti-Black policies. nothing going wrong in that school has any connection to bonnets," said activist Leslie Mac.

On today a high school in Houston, TX set this dress code for PARENTS. The other photo is the Principal who set the new rules. Reminder you can be Black and still create, write, enact & enforce anti-Black policies. nothing going wrong in that school has any connection to bonnets.

In an interview on BuzzFeed News' AM to DM, Mac said "you can tell by the specificity of the dress code" how it unfairly targets black women.

"It’s a specific policing of black women that we see enacted in policies, especially in school settings, over and over and over again," Mac said.

.@LeslieMac discusses the high school principal who created a dress code for parents after a black mother wore a bonnet and shirtdress while trying to enroll her daughter: "I just think it's disturbing that this is where efforts within the school are being placed."

Black people are frequently policed for their appearances, especially with regard to their hairstyles, Mac added. Many have been fired from their jobs and told they look "unprofessional" for wearing dreadlocks, cornrows, or other natural styles — a form of discrimination that only became illegal in New York two months ago.

In December, a black high school wrestler was forced to chop off his dreadlocks in the middle of a match. Members of the US military were forbidden from wearing these styles until 2014.

"It's just not true" that there's any correlation between what parents wear to school drop off and student success, Mac said.

"I just think it’s disturbing that this is where efforts in the school are being placed," she said.

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