Houston High School Under Fire After Imposing ‘Anti-Black’ Dress Code for Parents, Others Applaud the New Policy

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Like most schools, James Madison High School in Houston has a dress code for students. Principal Carlotta Outley Brown has ruffled a few feathers, however, after implementing a dress code for the parents of students who attend the Texas school.

In a letter posted online earlier this month, Brown outlined what is and is not allowed when visiting campus. The dress code prohibits satin scarves, or caps, hair rollers, pajamas, ripped jeans, low-cut tops and leggings worn with a shirt that doesn’t cover certain parts of the body, among other items.

Parent Dress Code
The new parent dress code at James Madison High prohibits parents from wearing silk bonnets, shower caps, low cut top and leggings, among other items. (KHOU / video screenshot)

Parents who don’t abide by the code won’t be permitted inside the school until they return appropriately dressed, according to Brown’s letter.

The principal wrote that while the school values its partnership with parents when it comes to education, “please know that we have to have standards, most of all we must have high standards.”

“We are prepping you child for a prosperous future,” she continued. “We want them to know what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate for any setting. This is a professional education environment where we’re teaching our children what’s right … and what’s correct or not correct.”

Not everyone was thrilled out the new rules, however, and some critics argued the new dress code was discriminatory against African-American parents.

“I think it’s ridiculous!” parent Dora Breeding told KHOU 11. “We are an adult and we are taxpaying adults and we shouldn’t be told what to do or what not to wear. We are not the students we are the parents.”

“I think that’s crazy,” Te’varrius Stephens, a senior at James Madison High, told the station. “Nobody’s coming up here in no outrageous things. Nobody coming up in here with no bathing suits, they don’t come in here with their body out.”

Writer and activist LeslieMac took to Twitter on Wednesday and argued that the policy was anti-Black and just another example of respectability politics being forced upon people of color. The activist also questioned how Brown, as a Black woman, could impose such discriminatory rules.

“On today, a high school in Houston, TX set this dress code for PARENTS,” Mac wrote. “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 …”

“We need to have more conversations of internalized anti-Blackness with our people because this shit makes ZERO sense,” she wrote in a follow-up tweet. “And folks are bending over backwards to police BLACK MOTHERS ONLY and see nothing wrong with that. I’m tired & I ain’t even got kids.”

Mac argued that if “respectability hasn’t gotten any of us free in the last few centuries you can be damn sure it ain’t gonna get us free today.”

According to KHOU 11, the dress code was put in place following an incident earlier this month where a mother trying to enroll her daughter in school was turned away because she was dressed inappropriately.

Joselyn Lewis arrived to James Madison High wearing a Marilyn Monroe T-shirt dress, a pink bonnet and flip-flops only for an administrator to tell her she wasn’t allowed on the property. Lewis figured she’d been mistaken for a student, but that wasn’t the case.

“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,” she told Click2Houston. “She said that my head scarf was out of dress code and my dress was too short.”

Lewis said her 15-year-old daughter had issues with bullying at her old school, so she was hoping to enroll her at James Madison. She had no idea what she had on would be an issue.

“I mean, I didn’t understand why my headscarf and my dress would conflict with me enrolling someone in school,” Lewis added. “Who are you to tell me how to dress?”

Despite the backlash, there were some parents who had no problem with the new dress code.

“This is great and should be mandated for all schools!” one woman wrote in response to an article posted on KHOU 11’s Facebook page.

“Why do you have to ‘tell’ anyone that??” another chimed in. “Someone has to have some sense.”

One commenter admitted the policy seemed “a bit classist.”

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