A charter school in Colorado has doubled down on a controversial dress code that one parent is claiming violates her son's Title IX rights. While the school's dress code seems like a pretty clear example of gender discrimination because of how it treats boys and girls differently, the school is insisting that it can expel the student for violating it.
Colorado Charter School Threatens to Expel Boy for Wearing Earrings
The dispute centers on the dress policy at the Rocky Mountain Classical Academy, a charter school in Colorado Springs for elementary and middle school children. The school's dress policy allows girls to wear earrings, but not boys.
A five-year-old boy enrolled in the school and wore small studs in his ears. His teacher called the boy's mother soon after the semester began and told her that the studs violated the school's dress code. The mother refused to force her child to take out the earrings and the dispute ran through the semester. The school board held a meeting in early December where they summarily upheld the dress code and told the mother and her child to comply with the code or risk expulsion.
When the boy kept the earrings in, he was suspended and was told that he would not be allowed to re-enroll.
The mother filed a Title IX lawsuit in federal court to prevent her child's effective expulsion and get the discriminatory dress code overturned.
Another Unforced Error By a School
Dress codes like this have been a constant source of conflict. Schools have tried to use dress codes to create conformity and as a way of instilling their world view and culture on students. When the dress code treats boys and girls differently – especially in ways that are relatively trivial or that are not traditionally gender-specific – parents and students have filed lawsuits and demanded that courts strike down discriminatory dress codes.
Schools across the country have learned long ago that allowing one gender to wear an accessory but prohibiting it to another is discriminatory and violates Title IX. This school's decision seems to be an unforced error that they should have avoided.
Does It Matter That It Was a Charter School?
There are people who have reacted in the school's defense, claiming that it's a private, charter school that does not have to comply with Title IX, a federal law. That's completely untrue, though: As long as the school accepts federal funding, it has to comply with Title IX.
Does It Matter That the Parents Agreed to the Dress Code?
Another angle that the school is taking is that the boy's parents had signed an agreement to the school's dress code when the boy was enrolled. That argument, however, falls flat, as well. Schools can't contract around federal law.
Title IX Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento
More and more, schools at all levels seem to be making decisions that predictably lead to a student's rights being violated.