James Madison High School Principal Carlotta Outley Brown has a history of requiring parental dress code at the schools she’s previously led. But in Brown’s current school she’s now forbidding parents to wear “a satin cap or bonnet” or shower cap “for any reason,” hair rollers, pajamas, leggings, low-cut tops, sagging pants, very short shorts, short dresses or male undershirts.
A dress code for parents was not explicitly required until the day after a local station, KPRC-TV, reported a mother who tried to enroll her daughter at the school had the police called on her after she asked to see the written dress code for parents. KPRC-TV reported that the mother was wearing a T-shirt dress with Marilyn Monroe on it and a headscarf.
A memo was sent out from Brown’s office the day after the incident with the mother. The incident has attracted both strong criticisms as well as defense.
James Madison High School, which is a part of the Houston Independent School District, has a required uniform for students. The school’s population is 58.4 percent Hispanic, 39.7 percent Black and only 0.5 percent white.
89.1 percent of the students are considered “at-risk” and 74.3 percent are “economically disadvantaged,” according to Texas Tribune data.
Some critics have seen the new dress code as elitist, and that Brown, a Black woman, is specifically targeting other Black women because of the restrictions on bonnets and silk caps, which are used to protect hairstyles.
Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers said the codes relating to women’s hair were “classist,” “belittling” and “dismissive.”
“I’m almost insulted,” Tomiko Miller, the mother of a Madison High School student, told the Houston Chronicle.
“I really think it was discriminatory, the language that was used. It was demeaning. 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.”
There’s a debate on social media about Brown and respectability politics.
Some vehemently disagree with the principal:
This is ELITISM and RESPECTABILITY POLITICS she should be fired. Most of the parents likely cannot afford to comply with this dress code. This is not 1984. https://t.co/7NlqEOF2Gy
— Ashton P. Woods? (@AshtonPWoods) April 23, 2019
On today a high school in Houston, TX set this dress code for PARENTS. The other photo is the Principal who set the new rules. Reminder you can be Black and still create, write, enact & enforce anti-Black policies. nothing going wrong in that school has any connection to bonnets. pic.twitter.com/nHhChVp39f
— LeslieMac ? (@LeslieMac) April 24, 2019
I hope she knows that she’s infringing on people’s rights. I can understand the student is following dress codes but if the parents are wearing nothing obscene she probably shouldn’t be violating people’s rights that can get you a lawsuit real quick#CarlottaOutleyBrown
— Bushido Brown (@BStar2195) April 25, 2019
Meanwhile, others are supporting her efforts:
YAY!! I am clapping her courage as standards should be set! Start a movement #CarlottaOutleyBrown!
— Ms Carey (@mimiisscarey) April 24, 2019
If I got this letter in the mail I’d been like, finally someone said it. Then I’d ask #CarlottaOutleyBrown to write a letter to all Walmart shoppers. #dresscode pic.twitter.com/KPRoquYezm
— Chenxi 晨曦 (@FromtheKatsEye) April 25, 2019
Salute to #CarlottaOutleyBrown ??
— QuincyJ (@QNJtheSTAR) April 26, 2019
Brown is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc., Jack and Jill of America, Inc., and The Links, Incorporated, according to an online biography.
She said in the memo that the dress code is meant to preserve the dignified atmosphere of the school. Brown previously served as the principal of Peck Elementary School, also in Houston, for 14 years.
She established a dress and language code at the school for parents there as well, according to a U.S. Department of Education publication that was released after Peck became a National Blue Ribbon School.
“Early in Principal Brown’s tenure, some parents showed up at school in inappropriately informal dress,” the author of the publication wrote. “She took these parents in hand and explained that they may not appear at school so dressed and firmly turned them away, as she did any parents using inappropriate language on school grounds.”
Madison High School has had difficulty retaining leadership. Brown took over as Madison’s principal midway through the second semester this year, becoming the school’s fourth principal in only five years.