In a potential legal test of a recent Texas law banning discrimination based on hairstyles, a Black high school student has found himself on in-school suspension for over a week. Darryl George was reprimanded for donning a locs hairstyle and frayed jeans, both of which, according to his mother Darresha George, contravened the local school district’s dress code.
Darryl, a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, has experienced multiple disciplinary actions and suspensions due to his hairstyle. His mother expressed her son’s mounting frustration and anxiety, noting that the situation was ironically concurrent with the recent enaction of the state’s CROWN Act. This act is in place to prevent discrimination centred around hair texture or protective hairstyles, such as locs or braids.
The school district rule surrounding hair length, according to a district spokesperson, does not contradict the CROWN Act. The rule stipulates that male students’ hair must not extend below the eyebrows or ear lobes nor outstretch the top of a t-shirt collar, whether loose or styled to do so.
Darryl’s fashion preference brought him into conflict with these stringent rules. His mother reported that while he was advised to change his clothes, the school also required him to cut his hair. His refusal led to in-school suspension.
In early September, Darryl faced additional penalties for having hair trailing below his eyebrows. Unless he decides to cut his hair, he stands to be transferred to a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program, also known as alternative school.
Seeking an end to this cyclical pattern of disciplinary actions, George’s family has enlisted legal help. Their stance is that the school district’s policy disproportionately targets Black students by objecting to culturally significant hairstyles, like locs or braids, which are inherent to Black culture and therefore integral to identity expression.
The family’s lawyer, Allie Booker, spoke on the matter, experiencing that the rules could, perhaps unintentionally, force Black students to cut hairstyles that they might wear for cultural preservation.
Members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus have denounced Darryl’s suspension and demanded a review of his school record. They are also pushing the school district to amend its regulations so that they ‘reflect compliance’ with the state’s CROWN Act.
Moreover, this controversy is not the first of its kind for Barbers Hill Independent School District. Last year, a lawsuit was filed against the district for its dress and grooming policies, which were alleged to be discriminatory and unconstitutional. The district was legally barred then from enforcing the hair-length policy through a federal court injunction while the case remains ongoing.
In the midst of these controversies, the Texas CROWN Act was signed by Governor Greg Abbott, signalling an apparent victory against hairstyle-based discrimination. Nonetheless, the fight is yet to spread nationally as legislation for a country-wide implementation of the Act has not succeeded.