Educators Struggle to Uphold Dress Codes in Light of Religious Accommodations

September 19, 2006

Source: Houston Chronicle

On September 19, 2006 the Houston Chronicle reported, "When Principal James May took over I.H. Kempner High School, a pecan-tree-lined campus named after the Imperial Sugar founder, the 35-year public school veteran found himself facing a new sort of quandary. Although the Sugar Land school has a dress code barring goatees and short skirts alike, a number of bearded Muslim students came to him asking for a reprieve for their facial hair. May knew little about Islam at the time but is schooled enough in constitutional law to quote Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, the precedent-setting 1969 Supreme Court decision: 'It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.' So he granted their request. That was seven years ago. Today, May and other school leaders say they spend even more time maintaining the delicate balance between protecting Islamic students' religious rights and school dress-code policies designed to maintain order. The conflicts typically come to a head about this time each fall, with the Islamic holiday of Ramadan about a week away."