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Student Suspended for Dreadlocks Sparks Debate on Hair Discrimination: School Denies Bias

by Gabriel Martinez
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hair discrimination

In the same week that the state of Texas enacted legislation against racial discrimination linked to hairstyles, a Black high school student faced suspension for purportedly breaching the district’s dress code with his dreadlocks.

Darryl George, a junior attending Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, was subjected to an in-school suspension after administrators informed him that the length of his dreadlocks, which fell below his eyebrows and earlobes, was against the school’s policy. According to his mother, Darresha George, the 17-year-old ties his dreadlocks atop his head and has done so for years.

George completed his suspension last week and plans to return to the educational institution in the Houston vicinity on Monday. He intends to keep his dreadlocks in a ponytail even if it necessitates him attending an alternative educational facility.

This event has reignited conversations surrounding hair discrimination in educational and professional environments. It also serves as an early test case for Texas’s recently implemented CROWN Act, an acronym for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” This legislation, effective from September 1, aims to eliminate race-based hair discrimination and prevents schools and employers from penalizing individuals due to their hair texture or protective hairstyles like Afros, braids, dreadlocks, twists, or Bantu knots. Texas is among 24 states to have introduced a version of the CROWN Act. A federal equivalent passed the House of Representatives last year but stalled in the Senate.

For individuals in the Black community, hairstyles are not simply aesthetic choices but have cultural and often spiritual significance. Candice Matthews, national minister of politics for the New Black Panther Nation, emphasized that dreadlocks are symbolic of wisdom and are a vital link to heritage and spirituality.

All the men in George’s family have worn dreadlocks for generations, signaling not just a fashion statement but a cultural and spiritual commitment, according to Darresha George.

Historically, various hairstyles have held communicative functions in African societies, ranging from tribal affiliations to marital status. Post-abolition of slavery, hairstyles among Black Americans acquired a political dimension, despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.

The issue of hair-based discrimination has been pervasive in both professional and educational settings. One notable instance occurred in 2018 when a white referee in New Jersey ordered a Black high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a match, an event that led to the referee’s suspension and catalyzed the state’s adoption of its own CROWN Act.

Darresha George stated that her son’s dreadlocks have been growing for nearly a decade without any prior issues. When discussing the CROWN Act with the school’s administrative staff, she was told that the legislation did not apply to the length of her son’s hair.

Barbers Hill Independent School District maintains a policy that prohibits male students from having hair that extends below the eyebrows, earlobes, or the top of a t-shirt collar. The school, which does not require uniforms, also clashed with another Black student over hair length in 2020, an event that attracted national scrutiny.

District Superintendent Greg Poole defended the policy, arguing it is lawful and instills a sense of sacrifice beneficial for the collective good. The district’s academic success, according to Poole, can be attributed to its rigorous standards, which is one reason parents choose the school.

However, Allie Booker, the attorney representing the George family, contested that the school’s argument is flawed. According to her, hair length constitutes a part of hairstyle, which is protected under the law.

Darresha George emphasized that her son’s dreadlocks do not hinder anyone’s educational experience. She accused the administration of exhibiting prejudice against Black hairstyles and culture.

This incident has led to an outpouring of support from young Black individuals nationwide, many of whom have themselves encountered discrimination based on their hair.

Darresha George expressed concern for her son’s academic and extracurricular future following the suspension. She noted that his grades have suffered, affecting his ability to participate in sports and other activities. Once on track to graduate early, he now faces an uphill battle to maintain his academic standing. Consequently, the family is contemplating a change in school districts, which presents its own set of challenges.

This report is made possible through the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Responsibility for the content lies solely with The Big Big News education team.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about hair discrimination

What is the CROWN Act and when did it take effect in Texas?

The CROWN Act, an acronym for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” is a piece of legislation intended to eliminate race-based hair discrimination. It prohibits schools and employers from penalizing individuals due to their natural hair texture or protective hairstyles such as Afros, braids, dreadlocks, twists, or Bantu knots. The Act took effect in Texas on September 1.

Who is Darryl George and why was he suspended?

Darryl George is a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas. He was given an in-school suspension because his dreadlocks were said to violate the school’s dress code, which prohibits male students from having hair that extends below the eyebrows, earlobes, or the top of a t-shirt collar.

What has been the school district’s defense regarding this suspension?

Greg Poole, the District Superintendent, has defended the policy by stating that it is legal and aims to instill a sense of sacrifice that benefits everyone. He asserts that the policy is one of the reasons parents choose to send their children to this district due to its rigorous standards and high academic performance.

What does the family’s legal representative say about the suspension?

Attorney Allie Booker, who represents the George family, argues that the school’s justification is flawed. She states that hair length is part of a hairstyle, and therefore protected under the CROWN Act.

Has there been prior controversy over the school’s dress code?

Yes, Barbers Hill Independent School District previously faced national attention in 2020 when it told another Black male student that he needed to cut his dreadlocks to return to school or participate in graduation.

How does this case relate to broader issues of racial discrimination?

The case has reignited discussions around racial discrimination based on hair in educational and professional settings. It serves as an early test for the recently enacted CROWN Act in Texas and adds to a growing list of incidents that highlight the need for broader legislative protection against race-based discrimination.

What are the cultural and historical contexts of Black hairstyles?

Hair has long played a significant role across the Black diaspora, often carrying cultural, spiritual, and even political significance. Historically, hairstyles like braids and dreadlocks were used in African societies as a form of communication and have evolved to become symbols of identity and resistance.

What are the ramifications for Darryl George following his suspension?

Post-suspension, Darryl George’s academic grades have suffered, affecting his ability to engage in extracurricular activities like sports. Initially on track to graduate early, he now faces academic setbacks and may need to change school districts, according to his mother.

More about hair discrimination

  • CROWN Act Overview
  • History of Hair Discrimination
  • Texas State Legislation on School Dress Codes
  • Previous Controversy at Barbers Hill Independent School District
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Discrimination
  • Significance of Hair in the Black Diaspora
  • Academic Impact of School Policies on Students

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