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District Court Finds Boys’ Basketball Haircut Policy Does Not Constitute Discrimination or Infringe Student Rights

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March 26, 2013

By Caitlyn Sharrow* and Brian Crowley

In Hayden v. Greensburg Community School Corporation, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana found that a school’s haircut policy for the boys’ basketball team did not constitute gender discrimination, infringe upon a student’s due process rights, or deny him equal protection.

This case resulted from the removal of a student from the junior high boys’ basketball team for failing to comply with the haircut policy. The haircut policy was established by the boys’ basketball head coach pursuant to a “Dress and Grooming” school board policy and the “Athletic Code of Conduct.” The school’s policy applies to both junior high and high school boys’ basketball teams, and requires that basketball players have their hair cut above their ears, eyebrows, and collar. Before being removed from the team, the student was informed he would not be able to participate in practice or games if he failed to cut his hair. In addition, the student’s mother met with various school officials, the student’s parents were denied a school board hearing, and the student was given a final warning.

Among other more technical legal findings, the Court found that the due process, equal protection, and discrimination claims could not survive on their merits. The Court reasoned that public schools may lawfully enact and enforce dress and grooming policies and may even impose a higher degree of regulation on students who participate in interscholastic sports than the general student body. The student’s equal protection claim failed because the haircut policy applies only to male athletes who play basketball and not all male athletes, thereby eliminating any claims that male athletes were treated differently from female athletes. The Court stated that there was no evidence the school intentionally discriminated against the student because of his membership in the class of male athletes. Similarly, the student’s Title IX gender discrimination claim failed because the haircut policy does not discriminate against the student because of his gender.

* Caitlyn Sharrow, a second-year law student at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, is A Loyola Education Practicum Student.  The Practicum, part of Loyola’s education law curriculum, was created to provide law students with practical experience at education law firms and organizations. Students receive academic credit for their Practicum experience. 

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