HOUSTON — A Houston high school principal has implemented a dress code for parents because she says it is necessary to establish high standards for students, despite criticism that the move could be discriminatory.
James Madison High School will turn away parents who show up to school wearing pajamas, hair rollers, leggings or certain other items of clothing, including bonnets.
“No one can enter the building or be on the school premises wearing a satin cap or bonnet on their head for any reason,” Principal Carlotta Outley Brown said in a letter to parents dated April 9. “You also cannot wear a shower cap of any kind in the building.”
Madison High’s dress code was established shortly after KPRC-TV in Houston reported that a parent attempting to enroll her child was asked to leave because of her attire, which included a headscarf and a T-shirt dress.
Another Madison High parent, Tomiko Miller, told the Houston Chronicle that she was “almost insulted” by the new code.
“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.”
Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, called codes relating to women’s hair “classist” and “belittling.”
“I’m sorry, this principal may have plenty of money and time to go to the hairdresser weekly and have her stuff done,” he told the newspaper. “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.”
Houston Independent School District policy allows schools to establish standards for student attire and grooming, but no policy exists concerning parents, the Chronicle reported. District administrators did not respond Tuesday to a request by The Associated Press for comment, and a message left for Outley Brown was not returned.
“Parents, we do value you as a partner in your child’s education. You are your child’s first teacher,” Outley Brown said in her letter. “However, please know we have to have standards, most of all we must have high standards.”
Also banned from school grounds are men wearing undershirts, parents wearing sagging pants or shorts, revealing tops, torn jeans “showing lots of skin,” and “dresses that are up to your behind.”
Outley Brown, who is African American, took over as principal during the current school year, becoming the school’s fourth principal in five years. She previously was the principal at a Houston elementary school that routinely met state academic standards and occasionally earned awards for performing above average, the paper reported.
The elementary school at one point received one of the country’s highest academic honors and a U.S. Department of Education publication noted at the time that Outley Brown, concerned that parents were showing up in “inappropriately informal dress,” would explain to them that “they may not appear at school so dressed and firmly turned them away, as she did any parents using inappropriate language on school grounds.”
The push for parents to dress up has played out elsewhere. A dress code previously was pitched by lawmakers in Tennessee, where a bill sponsored by state Rep. Antonio Parkinson and one other ultimately was tabled. The bill would require all Tennessee schools to adopt a parent code of conduct that could include a parental dress code.
Parkinson brushed aside concerns that dress codes could target one class or race over another, telling the newspaper that, “I’m not speaking about affordable as much as priorities. … What could be a higher priority than bringing your child to school? You wouldn’t go to a date like that.”