ALBANY, N.Y — Officials at the City District of Albany are at potential risk of violating the civil rights of 13 girl athletes punished for refusing to abide by its discriminatory dress code, according to a letter sent to the district by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The girls, all members of the high school track and field team, were reprimanded by the district’s athletic director for training in sports bras. After protesting the decision, 13 members of the track and field team – the vast majority of whom are Black and Latina girls – were issued athletic suspensions, denying them participation at a scheduled invitational game and a chance to qualify for the state trials. 

“The actions taken by the Albany City School District are appalling,” said Ahriah Baynes, a 17-year-old junior at Albany High School. “The district not only sent the message that staff and superiors can do as they please, but also displayed that students truly have no say in the system. The district’s actions completely ruined the track experience for more than one person — myself included, and demonstrated that other female athletes are not safe as well. We will continue to fight for our rights until the district holds itself accountable and creates a safe environment for female athletes.”

“I feel the suspension has impacted me in a way to want to make a change,“ said Alexis Hope Arango, 18-year-old senior at Albany High. “All we want is to be heard, and none of us did anything wrong. We all love track and shouldn’t be punished for what we wear in high heat weather.”

“The biased and unfair treatment of the young women on the Albany track team is unacceptable, and the students should have their suspensions expunged immediately,” said Melanie Trimble, NYCLU Regional Director for the Capital Region. “There is no place for dress codes that reinforce outdated gender stereotypes. The district should revise and remedy these harmful policies, and apologize to the students for its uneven enforcement and heavy-handed discipline.”

Based on an investigation done by the ACLU and NYCLU, district officials are potentially in violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, New York State Human Rights Law, New York Education Law, the Dignity for All Students Act, and local anti-discrimination protections. Additionally, the district’s athletic suspensions of the student athletes for speaking out against its dress code may run afoul of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and corresponding protections in the New York State Constitution.  

“Discriminatory dress codes reflect outdated and harmful sex stereotypes, and ultimately send a message to girls that what they wear is more important than their comfort or physical well-being,” said Linda Morris, staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “These harms are even greater for Black girls and other girls of color, who are often disproportionately targeted for dress code enforcement because of racist and sexist stereotypes about proper feminine appearance and behavior.” 

Overly harsh dress code enforcement reflects and compounds existing racial disparities in New York school discipline rates. In its analysis of the 2015-2016 data released by the U.S. Department of Education, the NYCLU found that Black students in the Capital Region (including Albany County) were, on average, nearly four times more likely to be suspended than their white peers. These disparities are especially stark for Black girls, who are far more likely than white girls to be harshly disciplined in school, particularly for minor and subjective infractions like dress code violations, instead of given a second chance. Biased dress code enforcement contributes to such disproportionate discipline, excluding Black girls and other girls of color from class and extracurricular activities and too often pushing them out of school altogether.

The full letters sent by ACLU and NYCLU to the City District of Albany officials can be found here: https://www.nyclu.org/en/publications/letter-sent-city-school-district-a...