Alabama's Jefferson Country Board of Education has voted to repeal a rule that forbade male high school students from wearing earrings. Starting next fall, male students will no longer be required to remove their piercings before coming to class. The vote was in response to letter sent to board members by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of a Jefferson County student Hunter Mahaffey, after he was told by school administrators that his stud earrings violated school's dress-code policy. In the letter, the SPLC called the rule discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Hunter, who had his ears pierced during winter break, was told to stop earrings the stud earrings because the district policy only permitted females from wearing jewelry to school.
"I'm really happy to get my ears pierced again and keep them pierced this time," Mahaffey said in a press release issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center. "I felt discriminated against when the school made me remove my earrings just because I'm a guy. It's a relief that the school board made the right decision by lifting the ban. Now students have more freedom and equality."
In a follow-up phone interview, Mahaffey told msnbc.com: "I'm very happy they made the right decision to change it. I plan on getting my ears pierced again during the summer."
He said that the district's decision to craft an dress code policy that was more gender neutral was a step in the right direction.
An SPLC attorney Sam Wolfe said that the policy change was about more than just personal adornment and was, instead, a move to confront gender stereotypes. The board members said that they made decision to conform with the rules in in effect in other districts around the state that don't have gender-based jewelry policy. In addition, members felt that defending against a possible legal action by the SPLC wasn't a good use of district funds.
"The approved revision is gender-neutral and addresses safety measures, the potential for disruption, and the promotion of a conducive atmosphere for learning. It is believed by the School District that its students and parents will observe generally accepted standards of decorum and good judgment in their use of earrings and all jewelry."