Louise schools will hold firm to its dress code policy, district leaders say, after a transgender student was not allowed on campus Tuesday for being in violation of hair length rules for boys.
LISD senior Sanae Martinez, whose legal name is Shawn, is a biological male who came out as a transgender female in August while attending remote classes at Louise High School due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Tuesday was Martinez’ first day to attend school in-person this year after the district discontinued online education. Attempting to enter Louise High School, Martinez was prohibited due to hair length and pierced ears.
“My hair was in Dutch braids, and I was wearing female-related dress code clothes, so I was in dress code,” Martinez told the Leader-News Thursday. “When I went to go into the school, (Louise High School Principal Donna Kutac) recognized me and she was like, ‘oh no. You are not coming to school looking like that.’”
LISD leaders said the issue is about dress code, not Martinez’ gender identity. The district, however, enforces its dress code based on students’ biological gender.
“We’re not troubled by Martinez’ gender identity,” LISD Superintendent Garth Oliver told the Leader-News. “That’s his personal choice. It’s dress code. He’s got to be in dress code.”
LISD’s dress code policy doesn’t allow male students to wear earrings or have hair long enough to touch their shirt collar.
“We’ve had other kids petition us for hair length, and they fight us on it,” Oliver said. “We have to follow through. We follow through every year, regardless of a gender identity. Boys have to have hair that fits the dress code.”
Tuesday was the first time Martinez tried to come to school following the female student dress code instead of the male dress code regarding hair length. Martinez has attended LISD schools for Pre-K through high school, eventually participating in high school cheerleading.
Tuesday’s incident “really made me so upset because (Kutac) has known me since I was little,” Martinez said.
Martinez wants to follow the female dress code in accordance with gender identity.
“They told me that it was because of my dress code, but since I do consider myself a trans woman, I believe that I should follow the female handbook and not the male handbook,” Martinez said.
Martinez hasn’t tried to return to school since Tuesday, instead obtaining an application to transfer to El Campo ISD.
Martinez lives in the Louise school district zone, not El Campo’s, and would need approval from ECISD to transfer.
For the time being, ECISD is not accepting any open enrollment transfers, ECISD Superintendent Bob Callaghan told the Leader-News Friday. The district is working on accommodating students who were enrolled in online learning during the previous grading period who want to switch to in person education.
According to the district’s preliminary data, at least 377 ECISD remote learning students want to return to in person classes.
“I don’t know anything about anybody wanting to open enroll into El Campo, because right now we’re not even considering it until we get our own student populations into our seats,” Callaghan said.
Safety accommodations could be made if Martinez were to elect to comply with the male LISD dress code and return to Louise schools, Oliver said. Martinez would not be allowed to use the female restroom, but would be allowed to use the restroom alone or use a different facility away from other students.
Martinez said another school district would be preferable and is waiting to hear back from school officials about a transfer.
“If (people) give out their opinion, it’s their opinion,” Martinez said. “They do not have to accept (you), but at least (be respectful).”