Barbers Hill ISD asking court to clarify CROWN Act, after suspending student again over dreadlocks

Rosie Nguyen Image
Thursday, September 21, 2023
Barbers Hill ISD asks for clarification on CROWN Act
Barbers Hill ISD is asking the Texas court to clarify the CROWN Act after suspending high school student Darryl George for his dreadlocks.

MONT BELVIEU, Texas (KTRK) -- Barbers Hill ISD is asking a judicial court to clarify the terms of the CROWN Act, a new state law that prohibits hair discrimination at school and work. This comes after a Black student was suspended twice for his hairstyle, leading to accusations that the district is breaking the law.

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Houston, didn't think he'd be fighting for change again when it came to a Black student's hair at Barbers Hill High School. The state lawmaker is one of the co-authors of the CROWN Act in Texas. He said it is a law inspired by De'Andre Arnold, a former student who sued the same district three years ago.

RELATED: Houston-area teen reacts to new Texas law banning hair discrimination after inspiring the movement

CROWN is an acronym for "Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair." Texas is one of 24 states that have enacted a version of the CROWN Act.

"As the chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, this was one of our top priorities, and to see it happening all over again after we worked so hard to get the bill passed in a bipartisan way, it is a slap in the face," Reynolds said. "It is like déj vu all over again."

Two weeks ago, school officials suspended Darryl George for his twisted dreadlocks. They cited that it violated the district's dress and grooming code.

The policy says, "Male students' hair will not extend, at any time, below the eyebrows or below the ear lobes. Male students' hair must not extend below the top of a T-shirt collar or be gathered or worn in a style that would allow the hair to extend below the top of a T-shirt collar, below the eyebrows, or below the ear lobes when let down."

RELATED: 'It feels like déj vu': Student suspended due to his hairstyle amid TX law banning discrimination

George's mother, Darresha, said she was told that if her son did not cut his hair, he would be placed in extended in-school suspension. If he still didn't comply, he would be transferred to an alternative school.

However, George's mother and civil rights activists argued in a Sept. 7 press conference that the 11th grader wears his hair up when he's in school, so the length shouldn't be a problem. They also claim that the student has been growing out his twisted dreadlocks for 10 years and doesn't understand why he's being targeted now.

"It's not that they have a problem with the length of his hair. They have a problem with Black hair. Let's just tell it like it is," Quanell X said. "When do we, as African Americans, get the right to tell white folks how to wear their hair? We want the children in this district to have an equal hair policy that appreciates everybody's culture."

READ MORE: After 2 Black students were suspended, court rules hair policy is discriminatory

"I just really want my son to get the education he needs and not be discriminated against because of his hair," Darresha George said.

After George returned to school Monday, his mother said he was suspended again. With the district doubling down, civil rights activist Candice Matthews told ABC13 the family's attorney plans on filing a federal lawsuit this week.

After ABC13's coverage aired Wednesday evening, Superintendent Greg Poole sent out an email to district families, blaming the media for what he considered to be biased coverage and calling out the student's mother.

The email reads in part:

"I'm sure you may have seen our school district in the news recently. It is no surprise that the press present things with bias. We recently had a mother bring her children from a neighboring district that has a different dress code than our, knowing what our expectations are. She has utilized the media to present her case that we are unfairly treating her child. My high school son doesn't like to cut his hair. You perhaps deal with the same issue in your household. Regardless, these same rules have existed longer than my time at Barbers Hill, and the rules are applicable, to ALL students unless they have legitimate reasons for a religious exemption."

The mother told the Associated Press that all of the men in their family have dreadlocks, going back generations. To them, the hairstyle has cultural and religious importance.

RELATED: Barbers Hill HS student suspended for 2nd time over hair length, despite CROWN Act in place

A spokesperson with Barbers Hills ISD said that they have filed a judicial lawsuit, seeking clarification on the CROWN Act. Their statement to ABC13 says in part:

"The district's grooming policy, which does not prohibit male students from wearing braids, locks, or twists, does have male hair length requirements. As has been widely reported, the family of a high school student has refused to comply with the district's grooming policy and is now subject to disciplinary measures. The CROWN Act itself does not mention hair length, and the sponsor of the act has publicly confirmed that the act was never intended to prohibit grooming policies that limit hair length. The district does not intend to enhance the current disciplinary action against the student for the ongoing violation of its grooming policy pending the court's ruling on whether the district's policy is legal."

This was the same statement added to the end of the email that was sent to parents, saying it is the district's answer to "the recent biased media coverage."

Reynolds said this action is too little, too late. He told ABC13 he reached out to the TEA to intervene and is prepared to take this case to the U.S. Department of Justice. He expressed concern about how long the 11th grader will be punished, as the district is awaiting an answer to their lawsuit.

"They should have done this in the beginning. If they had questions about whether or not it violated the state law, then they should have done this at the beginning so that they wouldn't be subjecting students like Darryl to in-school suspension," Reynolds said.

As of Wednesday, Matthews said George is still under suspension.

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