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Black Texas student suspended twice for hairstyle despite state ban on racial discrimination


MONT BELVIEU, Texas (AP) — After serving an in-school suspension because of his hairstyle, a black Texas high school student immediately received the same punishment when he arrived at school Monday, his hair as before with twisted dreadlocks tied on top of her hair. head, said his mother.

Darryl George, a student at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, was initially suspended the same week his state banned racial discrimination based on hairstyle. School officials said her dreadlocks violated the district’s dress code because her hair fell below her eyebrows and earlobes.

WATCH: The effort to ban hairstyle discrimination nationwide

George, 17, served his first suspension last week at the Houston-area school. He was in tears when he was sent home on suspension from school Monday, his mother Darresha George said.

“He has to sit on a stool for eight hours in a cubicle. It’s very uncomfortable. Every day when he came home he would say his back hurts because he had to sit on a stool,” she said.

The incident is reminiscent of debates over hair discrimination in schools and the workplace and is already testing the state’s new CROWN law, which took effect September 1.

The law, an acronym for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” aims to ban race-based hair discrimination and prohibit employers and schools from penalizing people because of the texture of their hair or hair color. protective hairstyles including afros, braids, dreadlocks, twists. or Bantu knots. Texas is one of 24 states that have passed some version of the CROWN Act.

A federal version of the CROWN Act passed the House of Representatives last year, but failed to make it through the Senate.

For black people, hairstyles are more than just a fashion statement. Hair has always played an important role in the Black diaspora, said Candice Matthews, national policy minister for the New Black Panther Nation. (His group is not affiliated with another New Black Panther organization widely considered anti-Semitic.)

“Dreadlocks are seen as a connection to wisdom,” Matthews said. “It’s not a trend and it’s not about attracting attention. Hair is our connection to our soul, our heritage and our connection to God.

In George’s family, all the men have worn dreadlocks for generations. For them, hairstyles have cultural and religious significance, her mother said.

“Our hair is our strength, it’s our roots,” Darresha George said. “He has his ancestors locked in his hair, and he knows it.”

Historians say that braids and other hairstyles served as means of communication across African societies, including to identify tribal affiliation or marital status, and as cues of safety and freedom for those who were captured and enslaved.

After the abolition of slavery, black American hair became political. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, black people continued to face professional and social stigma for failing to adopt beauty habits that comply with European beauty norms and standards.

The issue of race-based hair discrimination in the workplace has long existed alongside public and private school concerns. In 2018, a white referee in New Jersey asked a black high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit. A viral video of the wrestler getting his hair cut with scissors as the crowd watched led to the referee’s suspension and spurred passage of the state’s CROWN law.

Darresha George said her son has been growing his dreadlocks for almost 10 years and the family has never received any rejections or complaints until now. When down, his dreadlocks hang above his shoulders. She said she didn’t understand how he broke the dress code when his hair was tied up.

“I even had a discussion about the CROWN Act with the principal and vice principal,” she said. “They said the law didn’t cover the length of his hair.”

LEARN MORE: When CROWN measures stall in states, cities step in to ban hair discrimination

The Barbers Hill Independent School District prohibits male students from having hair extending below the eyebrows, earlobes or top of the collar of a T-shirt, according to the student handbook. Additionally, all students’ hair must be clean, well-groomed, geometric and not have any abnormal color or variation. The school does not require a uniform.

The school previously clashed with another black student over the dress code. Barbers Hill officials told a student he had to cut his dreadlocks to return to school or participate in graduation in 2020, drawing national attention.

Greg Poole, who has served as the district’s superintendent since 2006, said the policy is legal and teaches students to comply as a sacrifice that benefits everyone.

“When you’re asked to conform…and give up something for the good of the whole, there’s a psychological benefit,” Poole said. “We need more teaching (on) sacrifice.”

Neighboring districts have implemented less strict policies. For example, Poole noted that others allow students to wear ripped jeans, which is not the case at Barbers Hill. He explained that parents come to the district because of its strict standards and high expectations, which he attributes to the district’s academic success.

Attorney Allie Booker, who represents the family, said the school’s argument doesn’t hold up because the length is considered part of a hairstyle, which is protected by law.

“We will continue to fight, because you cannot tell someone that hairstyles are protected and then be restrictive. If the style is protected, then the style is protected,” she said.

Darresha George said she and her son refuse to conform to a standard set by someone who is uncomfortable or ignorant.

“My son is well groomed and his hair does not distract from anyone’s education,” Darresha George said. “It has everything to do with the administration’s bias against black hairstyles and black culture.”

The district defends its dress code, which says its policies aim to “teach cleanliness and hygiene, instill discipline, prevent disruptions, avoid safety hazards, and teach respect for authority.”

George’s situation has sparked solidarity from young Black people across the country, who say they have long faced discriminatory dress codes and comments from adults about their hair.

“When I was in fifth grade, a teacher told me that my blue hair, my pink hair, was unnatural and too distracting to the other students in the class,” said Victoria Bradley, 19, who lives in Detroit. Michigan passed the CROWN Act this year.

Bradley, whose hair is braided and currently dyed several colors, said she attributes much of her confidence in her hair to her mother, Bernita Bradley, a longtime hairstylist and director of Parent Voice for National Parents Union.

Bernita Bradley said her first introduction to the CROWN Act was in 2021, when a 7-year-old mixed-race girl in Michigan had her hair cut by a school employee without her parents’ permission. The girl’s father, Jimmy Hoffmeyer, filed a $1 million lawsuit against the school district, alleging racial discrimination and ethnic intimidation. The lawsuit was settled earlier this year.

“It was modern-day scalping on this black child,” Bradley said.

It’s Darryl George’s first year at Barbers Hill High School. Last year, he went to a school in nearby Baytown, Texas, where he had no problem wearing the same hairstyle, his mother said. Darresha George said they had recently moved to the Mont Belvieu area for personal reasons.

The family was told they needed to schedule a meeting with the principal, Darresha George said.

After the suspension, “his grades are going down, which also means he can’t play football or participate in extracurricular activities,” Darresha George said. “He was on track to graduate early, but now he is falling behind and will have to work twice as hard just to be able to continue to graduate.”

Mumphrey reported from Phoenix.


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