(Editor’s note: The following is a Sun Herald editorial, which means it contains opinion, and should not be confused with news coverage of an event.)
High school graduation is a rite of passage for every teenager.
Many dream of walking across the stage in their cap and gown and receiving their diploma.
Photos of the special night that signifies the start of adulthood flood our Facebook pages and Instagram stories. Many students plan out the big day for months, or at the beginning of senior year.
Students spend hundreds of dollars on outfits, hair and makeup. They pay for invitations to send to the people that mean the most to them to ensure their spot in the gym, football field or Mississippi Coast Coliseum.
Graduation is a big deal. And the Harrison County School District ruined that milestone for two teenagers over a graduation dress code that is proving to target girls and transgender students.
L.B. is trans. She has used she/her pronouns and worn dresses to school her entire high school career. The 17-year-old was so excited to wear a white dress that she and her mother picked out for Harrison Central High’s graduation.
The teen was shocked when her principal told her she would not be allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony unless she dressed like a boy.
The conversation came after a phone call from the Mississippi school district’s superintendent, Mitchell King, who questioned how trans studentswould dress at graduation, according to a lawsuit and court testimony.
L.B. could have worn the makeup and jewelry she wanted if she would have walked. The dress, which would have been totally covered by the graduation gown, was the issue.
The school cited a graduation dress code shared to their social media that girls needed to wear a dress and heels, and boys would have to wear a certain color shirt, pants and a tie. L.B.’s mother signed a form agreeing to it, but thought her daughter would be able to follow the girl’s dress code as she’s done for years.
The ACLU joined L.B. and her parents and filed an emergency injunction in federal court in hopes a judge would reverse the school’s decision. With less than 24 hours to go before graduation, L.B.’s hopes were crushed when Judge Taylor McNeel sided with the school district.
L.B. opted not to attend graduation, and a second student at Harrison Central High now claims she was pulled from graduation lineup moments before the ceremony because of her pants and footwear.
L.B. and the second Harrison Central High student weren’t causing disturbances or interrupting the planned ceremony. One wanted to wear a white dress, and the other wanted to wear pants and comfortable shoes, according to her Facebook post.
The school district argued in court that they go by sex assigned at birth from students’ birth certificates on file.
MS Coast school district forbids trans teen’s dress. Are they violating their own dress code?
So they decided to fight a child in court and ruin a special day rather than let her wear clothes that matched her gender identity. Over a dress code that, as far as we can find, does not specifically mention trans students or chosen pronouns.
A national report released by the Government Accountability Office says nearly every public school in the U.S. has a dress code. Here’s what the agency found:
About 93% of dress codes in the U.S. include language that allows the rules to be open for interpretation by a school.
About 15% of school dress codes have rules for clothing, hairstyles and accessories based on sex. None of the schools with sex-specific dress codes have protections for transgender or non-binary students.
Dress codes commonly use words like “revealing” or ‘immodest” when describing clothing worn by women and girls, which could also target LGBTQIA students.
The Harrison County School District’s decisions amplify what data already tells us: that girls, trans students and people of color are more likely to be punished by school dress codes.
Harrison Central High and school district Superintendent Mitchell King could have opted out of being part of this statistic. Now, their decision has made national news, once again putting egg on Mississippi’s face.
We would implore the Harrison County School District, and all others on the Mississippi Coast, to take a hard look at dress codes and consider changing them to make them more inclusive of all students.
Graduation is rooted deep in tradition, but sometimes traditions need to updated or changed.
The opinions expressed above comes from the Sun Herald Editorial Board, which includes Executive Editor Blake Kaplan, Senior Editor Justin Mitchell and Audience Development Producer Emily Broyles.