Black student suspended for locs, but school says it wasn’t discrimination | ET REALITY

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The same week his state banned racial discrimination based on hairstyleA black high school student in Texas was suspended because school officials said his locomotives violated the district’s dress code.

Darryl George, a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, received an in-school suspension after he was told his hair fell below his eyebrows and earlobes. George, 17, wears his hair in thick, twisted dreadlocks tied on top of his head, said his mother, Darresha George.

George served his suspension last week. His mother said he plans to return to the Houston-area school on Monday, wearing her dreadlocks in a ponytail, even if he is required to attend an alternative school as a result.

The incident echoes debates over hair discrimination in schools and in the workplace and is already putting the state’s newly enacted CROWN Act, which went into effect Sept. 1, to the test.

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

A federal version of the CROWN Act passed the House of Representatives last year, but was unsuccessful in 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. (Her group is not affiliated with another New Black Panther organization widely considered anti-Semitic.)

“Dreadlocks are perceived as a connection to wisdom,” Matthews said. “This is not a fad and it is 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 dreadlocks, going back generations. For them, the hairstyle has cultural and religious importance, his mother said.

“Our hair is where our strength is, those are our roots,” said Darresha George. “She has her ancestors locked in her hair and she knows it.”

Historians say braids and other hairstyles served as methods of communication in African societies, including to identify tribal affiliation or marital status, and as clues to the safety and freedom of 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 on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, blacks continued to face professional and social stigma for failing to adopt grooming habits that conformed to beauty standards and norms. whites and Europeans.

The issue of racial hair discrimination in the workplace has long existed alongside concerns in public and private schools. In 2018, a white referee in New Jersey told a black high school wrestler that he cut off his dreadlocks or lose a match. The viral video of the wrestler cutting his hair with scissors as the crowd watched led to the referee’s suspension and prompted passage of the state’s CROWN Act.

Darresha George said her son has been growing his dreadlocks for almost 10 years and the family has never received pushback or complaints until now. When she lets go, his dreadlocks hang over his shoulders. She said she couldn’t understand how she violated the dress code when she wore her hair up.

“I even had a conversation about the CROWN Act with the principal and vice principal,” he said. “They said the law doesn’t cover the length of your hair.”

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

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

Greg Poole, district superintendent since 2006, said the policy is legal and teaches students to conform 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 (of) sacrifice.”

Nearby districts have less strict policies. For example, Poole noted that others allow students to wear jeans with holes, while Barbers Hill does not. He said 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 water because the length is considered part of the hairstyle, which is protected by law.

“We are going to continue fighting, because you cannot tell someone that hairstyles are protected and then be restrictive. If style is protected, then style is protected,” she stated.

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

“My son is well-groomed and his hair doesn’t distract from anyone’s education,” Darresha George said. “This has a lot to do with the administration being biased toward black hairstyles, toward black culture.”

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

George’s situation has drawn solidarity from young black people across the country, who say they have long dealt with discriminatory dress codes and adult comments about their hair.

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

Bradley, whose hair is braided and currently dyed various colors, said she attributes much of her hair confidence to her mother, Bernita Bradley, a longtime hairstylist and parent voice director for the National Parents Union.

Bernita Bradley said she was first introduced to the CROWN Act in 2021, when a school worker cut the hair of a 7-year-old biracial girl in Michigan without her parents’ permission. The girl’s father, Jimmy Hoffmeyer, filed a $1 million lawsuit against the school district, alleging racial discrimination and ethnic bullying. The lawsuit was settled earlier this year.

“That was a modern dispossession of this black child,” Bradley said.

Darryl George completed his suspension on Friday, but his mother is worried about what will happen on Monday when he returns to school with his dreadlocks in a ponytail.

“On Monday he will comply with the dress code with his dreadlocks, which do not go past his eyebrows or earlobes,” Darresha George said. School officials told her they planned to enroll her son in an alternative school if they believed she continued to violate the dress code.

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

The family has considered changing school districts, he said. “That’s a fight in itself.”

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