A principal’s new dress code for parents of students and guests at a Houston high school has sparked debate on whether the guidelines are discriminatory and “belittling.”
Carlotta Outley Brown, the principal of James Madison High School, sent a letter to parents on April 9 that detailed a list of prohibited clothing items that included satin caps, “house shoes,” pajamas, sagging pants and hair rollers.
In the letter, Brown said anyone who breaks the dress code policies would “not be permitted inside the school” until that person returns “appropriately dressed for the school setting.”
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the letter was sent out amid reports that a parent who said she was attempting to enroll her daughter at the school earlier this month was denied access because of her attire.
Joselyn Lewis told NBC-affiliate KPRC-TV that an administrator at the school turned her away because she was wearing a headscarf and a T-shirt dress.
“She said that my headscarf [didn’t abide by the] dress code and my dress was too short,” Lewis said.
Reports of the alleged encounter with Lewis, who is black, and the new guidelines issued to parents, have evoked debates online over whether the guidelines were inherently laced with racial and discriminatory undertones.
Brown, who is black, had served as an educator for over 30 years before joining James Madison, her alma mater, according to a bio on the school’s website.
Among the school’s students, 55% are identified as Hispanic and 40% are identified as African-American, according to the Houston Independent School District.
Many on social media argued that the new guidelines are discriminatory, particularly with its ban on such items as satin caps and bonnets ― products that many black women use as a protectant for varying hair textures.
“Reminder you can be Black and still create, write, enact & enforce anti-Black policies,” one Twitter user wrote. “Nothing going wrong in that school has any connection to bonnets.”
Ashton P. Woods, Black Lives Matter Houston organizer and a candidate for Houston City Council, called the rules an example of “elitism” and “respectability politics” on Twitter.
Tomiko Miller, the mother of a James Madison student, told the Chronicle she was “insulted” by the letter.
“I really think it was discriminatory, the language that was used,” she said. “It was demeaning. And I’m African American — and if it’s misty outside and I have a hair bonnet on, I don’t see how that’s anyone’s business.”
Brown stood by her decision, telling The Wall Street Journal that parents were appearing on school grounds in “risqué clothes.”
“They were coming in a manner that was not presentable for the educational setting,” she said.
Officials with the Houston Independent School District, which includes James Madison, declined to comment on the matter.
The Journal noted that Tennessee state Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D) had similarly pushed for regulations concerning the way parents dress on school campuses.
Earlier this year, Parkinson proposed legislation to require Tennessee school districts to craft codes of conduct for parents, which would include dress guidelines. The bill passed the House but did not advance in the state Senate.
The guidelines for parents and visitors at James Madison also include bans on short shorts, revealing tops and leggings “showing your bottom.”
Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, told the Chronicle that the rules concerning headwear, in particular, are “classist,” “belittling” and “dismissive.”
“I’m sorry — this principal may have plenty of money and time to go to the hairdresser weekly and have her stuff done,” he said. “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.”