Jessica Oates is the single mother of Jabez, a four-year-old boy who was excited to start his first day of school. Unfortunately, administrators at Barbers Hill ISD in Texas told the 25-year-old mom that Jabez wasn’t allowed to attend. This wasn’t because Jabez resided in a different district or didn’t have the necessary paperwork. No, the school district banned Jabez from going to pre-K because he is a boy with long hair.
Jabez has been growing his hair since birth, and considers it a part of his identity. Jessica is part Native American, and believes that hair is a symbol of strength. She says she will cut Jabez’s hair the day he asks her to get it cut.
In the past week, over 10,000 people from all over the world asked the school district to let Jabez go to school. Yesterday, Pacific Legal Foundation joined them in urging the school to lift its ban on boys with long hair.
The school district’s policy violates the Equal Protection Clause. Because the ban on students with long hair applies only to boys, the burden is on the school district to come up with an exceedingly persuasive justification for its policy. It has come up with none. The school district maintains that the ban is needed to “teach [ ] hygiene, prevent disruption, minimize safety hazards.” Yet that justification is severely undercut by the fact girls can wear their hair as long as they’d like.
Further, the school district’s policy threatens freedom of expression. Jabez’s long hair is a part of his identity and his family’s Native American beliefs. By forcing Jabez to choose between expressing those beliefs and going to school, the school district’s policy violates the First Amendment and Texas law.
The superintendent of the school district recently said that he would not change “longstanding policies simply to appease.” We hope he will change them to follow the Constitution. It’s time for the school to welcome Jabez with open arms.