"We must have high standards," wrote James Madison High School principal Carlotta Outley Brown in a letter one mother called "discriminatory"

By Rachel DeSantis
April 25, 2019 12:36 PM
Credit: Marie D. De Jesus/Houston Chronicle via AP

A high school in Houston is facing criticism after implementing a dress code not just for students, but also their parents.

James Madison High School principal Carlotta Outley Brown issued a letter to parents and guests of the school on April 9, banning items such as satin caps, shower caps, bonnets, hair rollers and revealing jeans and shirts from school grounds.

“To prepare our children and let them know daily, the appropriate attire they are supposed to wear when entering a building, going somewhere, applying for a job, or visiting someone outside of the home setting, I am going to enforce these guidelines on a daily basis at Madison High School,” wrote Brown. “We are preparing our children for the future and it begins here.”

The letter details the items Brown deems unacceptable, including “pajamas of any kind”; “jeans that are torn from your buttocks (behind)”; “leggings that are showing your bottom”; “very low-cut tops or revealing tops that [reveal] your busts (breasts)”; “sagging pants, shorts [and] jeans”; “short shorts that are up to your behind”; “Daisy Dukes and low rider shorts”; and “dresses that are up to your behind.”

The letter also notes that “men wearing undershirts will NOT be permitted in the building.”

“Please know that if you break our school rules/policies or do not follow one of these rules, you will not be permitted inside the school until you return appropriately dressed for the school setting,” the principal wrote in underlined and bold text.

Defending her stance, Brown continued, “Parents, we do value you as a partner in your child’s education. You are your child’s first teacher. However, please know we have to have standards, most of all we must have high standards.”

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“We want [your children] to know what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for any setting they may be in,” she wrote. “This is a professional educational environment where we are teaching our children what is right and what is correct or not correct.”

The letter is dated just one day after reports broke that a James Madison mother was unable to register her daughter for classes because she was wearing a short T-shirt dress.

Joselyn Lewis told Houston NBC affiliate KPRC-TV she wasn’t allowed on the premises by an administrator because she was violating the dress code.

Lewis explained to KPRC that she was in the middle of getting her hair done, so she decided to keep it up. Her dress also passed the finger-length test, she added.

“[The adminstrator] said that my headscarf was out of dress code and my dress was too short,” she told the outlet. “I can wear what I want to wear. I don’t have to get all dolled up to enroll her to school. My child’s education, anyone’s child’s education should be more important than what someone has on. That shouldn’t matter.”

Similar criticism came from Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, who told the Houston Chronicle he found codes discussing women’s hair “classist.”

“I’m sorry — this principal may have plenty of money and time to go to the hairdresser weekly and have her stuff done,” he said. “Who are you to judge others who may not have the same opportunities that you do? Having a wrap on your head is not offensive. It should not be controversial.”

Parents of James Madison students took issue with the dress codes as well. Rosemary Young said she was given a copy of the new rules when she arrived wearing a satin cap.

Young said she headed to the school in a rush to pick up her son after her younger child broke his arm.

“It doesn’t matter how a parent should come,” she told ABC affiliate KTRK-TV. “If we come here belligerent, out of control, things of that nature, that’s what you have the police for, but what I wear should never be an issue. I’m not revealing. I’m not doing anything. I don’t have any weapons.”

Another mother, Tomiko Miller, said she was “almost insulted” by the code, as she felt it targeted African-American women.

“I really think it was discriminatory, the language that was used. It was demeaning,” she told the Chronicle. “And I’m African American — and if it’s misty outside and I have a hair bonnet on, I don’t see how that’s anyone’s business.”

The Chronicle reports Brown is herself a graduate of James Madison and took over as principal halfway through this school year’s second semester, making her the school’s fourth principal in the last five years.

The Houston Independent School District declined to comment when reached by PEOPLE.