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Alabama high school repeals ban on male earrings

Hunter Mahaffey

Hunter Mahaffey, a student at Hueytown High School in Hueytown, Ala., says teachers ordered him to remove his stud earrings in February.

Alabama high school student Hunter Mahaffey has won the right to wear his stud earrings to class again.

The Jefferson County Board of Education on Monday voted during a special meeting to repeal a policy that banned male students from wearing earrings. The change will be in effect for the next school year.

The reversal came after the Southern Poverty Law Center sent the school board a letter on April 25 saying that the male earring ban was unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Mahaffey, who just finished his junior year at Hueytown High School in Hueytown, Ala., was told by school officials to remove his simple stud earrings on Feb. 6, the first school day after he had his ears pierced. The school cited a district-wide policy that “ear jewelry may be worn by females only.”

“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 called the dress-code policy change “a good step forward for my school system.”

Sam Wolfe, attorney with the SPLC, said the case is about more than the right to wear an item of jewelry.

“One of the reasons this case was interesting from SPLC’s perspective is it really gets at the idea of gender stereotypes -- that it’s wrong for government or schools to make policy based on gender stereotypes,” Wolfe told msnbc.com.

The education board said it agreed to change the policy after researching other school districts in Alabama and finding that the overwhelming majority allowed wearing of earrings by males and females alike.

"It was determined in these financially challenging times that it was better to spend the tax dollars to meet instructional needs rather than to take on additional legal costs, the Jefferson County Board of Education said in a statement.

"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."

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