Troy ISD meeting

Troy ISD Superintendent Neil Jeter talks about the student dress and grooming code at a school board meeting Tuesday.

TROY — The Troy Independent School District’s Board of Trustees fielded comments from local residents on Tuesday, when it discussed its student dress and grooming code, and the process used to review it — a procedure that Superintendent Neil Jeter said occurs once every three years.

The district’s current dress and grooming code, a board-adopted document, was implemented prior to the 2018-19 school year, according to Troy ISD.

Jeter, who said the meeting was a transparent way to publicly discuss its policies, understands that legislation in Texas is ever changing.

“There are court cases and even legislation pending that could affect dress code decisions in the future,” Jeter told the Telegram on Monday. “The district will comply with future legislation and applicable court rulings.”

During the special meeting on Tuesday, he noted how dress and grooming codes have never been a top priority for Troy ISD. 

“Dress codes have always been controversial and contrary to what some may believe, they’ve never been our top priority in education,” the Troy ISD superintendent said during the meeting on Tuesday. “But they are a part of what makes up our school system in trying to enforce the rules that apply.”

He emphasized how Troy ISD was more preoccupied with navigating the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year. 

“It’s probably become even less of a priority since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020 ... We had a lot of other things on our mind since that time,” Jeter said. “But yet, the dress code has persisted and as we have started to return more to normal, we’re trying to pick up where we left off in enforcing the dress code. It’s still not my priority but it is something that we deal with on a regular basis.”

No immediate changes

Despite the school board having an opportunity to approve immediate changes to the dress and grooming code on Tuesday, trustees did not make any motions to do so. Instead, trustees will wait for the District Student Dress Code Committee’s recommendations. 

“If the committee recommends significant change and the board is in agreement, I am in favor of introducing a revised dress code before the next school year,” Jeter said. 

In September 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Texas sent a letter to Troy ISD informing the school district that its dress and grooming code was harmful.

Although the ACLU understands that Troy ISD may not intend to discriminate against certain students, the nonprofit organization — founded to “defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country” — stressed how the policies currently in place can be harmful.

 “These policies actively devalue Black students by preventing them from fully presenting themselves with natural and protective hairstyles like cornrows, locs and braids,” the ACLU letter said. “By enforcing policies that operate as a ban on natural Black hair, schools send a negative message to Black students that natural hair is not ‘professional enough’ or ‘up to standards.’”

The Troy ISD dress code currently prohibits boys in grades 2-12 from wearing pony tails, top knots, buns or similar styles.

Boy disciplined over hairstyle

In April, Troy ISD placed Maddox Cozart, an 11-year-old boy, in in-school suspension for 12 days for his choice of hair styling.

Maddox, a Raymond Mays Middle School sixth-grader, is biracial. His father is black and Maddox decided to explore the different hairstyles that many black men wear.

“My son had a head full of hair and at the beginning of March we got a note from his school saying that he needed to cut his hair,” Hope Cozart, Maddox’ mother, told the Telegram in April. “We weren’t going to cut it at first but Maddox said, ‘Mom, I don’t mind cutting it as long as I can keep the hair on the top long.’ He wanted to do styles.”

But she said Maddox’s new hairstyles were not up to standards for school administrators.

“The first day that I sent him to school after his haircut, they still said no … so after a couple of days I changed his hair again,” Cozart said. “I put his hair into two braids where it would lay in the back, but that was still not satisfying.”

Days later, she said the haircut was ultimately deemed acceptable.

“They said because it laid down in the back that it was OK. But if it does not continue to lie down in the back, he will be placed in ISS,” Cozart said. “So no changes have truly been made.”

Community comments

Todd Milton, a fellow Troy ISD parent, disagrees with Cozart.

“This is not a racist issue. It never has been,” Milton said. “Like I said last time … it wasn’t a racist issue until it was brought up by (Cozart). This is a rule issue … something that (the school board) voted on.”

While he doesn’t agree with Cozart’s decision to call for the Troy ISD school board to change its policies with summer quickly approaching, Milton believes the local community is largely in favor of amending its policies prior to next year.

“Ninety-nine percent of the community agrees it should be changed,” he said. “It’s just about going about it the proper way.”

However, the ACLU said Troy ISD is in a “unique position” to make improvements through its District Student Dress Code Committee — a collective that consists of students, parents/caregivers and district staff members.

“By reexamining and revising your dress and grooming code to remove all stereotypes based on race and sex, your district will abide by federal law, while also becoming a more affirming and supportive environment for every student in your district,” the letter said.

Jeter — who called in-school suspension an effective technique for combating dress and grooming code infractions — said the District Student Dress Code Committee is tentatively scheduled to meet next week.