The Harrison County School Board - (from left) David Ladner, Barbara Thomas, Eric Simmons, Betty Daniel, and Steven Ramsey. Credit: Harrison County School District

The Harrison County School Board approved a change to its dress code policies last month that requires students to dress according to the gender they were assigned at birth, the Sun Herald first reported.  

Multiple changes were made to the dress code in the middle and high school student handbook for the 2023-24 school year, including three new items related to the gender of the student. They state “boys must wear shorts or pants” and “girls must wear dresses or skirts or shorts or pants.” The third section says attire must be consistent with the gender in the school district’s permanent record, or a student’s birth certificate. 

The same language is also included in the elementary student handbook for this year. 

The superintendent of the district, Mitchell King, and other district representatives did not respond to requests for comment. 

Earlier this year, the district made headlines for refusing to allow a transgender student to wear a dress to her graduation ceremony, resulting in a lawsuit by the ACLU. The complaint said the student wore “dresses, skirts, and other traditionally feminine clothing” throughout her high school career without issue. A judge declined to intervene in the case, and the student missed the graduation ceremony. 

The district’s move also comes on the heels of several efforts to restrict the rights of transgender people in Mississippi. The Legislature passed a law in 2021 to ban trans women and girls from competing on teams that align with their gender and another this year to prohibit gender-affirming health care for trans minors. 

In June, the University of Mississippi Medical Center dissolved its clinic that provided health care in an inclusive environment to LGBTQ+ individuals. The clinic had been under scrutiny by lawmakers for providing gender-affirming care to trans minors.

READ MORE: What to know about gender-affirming care in Mississippi

Rob Hill, Human Rights Campaign Mississippi state director, called on the school district to repeal this policy. 

“Every kid should feel safe and welcome at school,” Hill said. “Transgender kids deserve the opportunity to grow up knowing that they are valued and respected for who they are. This harmful policy will only further alienate and endanger kids across Harrison County who are already struggling with so many challenges today. The school district should reconsider its decision and repeal this damaging and discriminatory approach.” 

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.