Family of Texas high school student, Darryl George, suspended over hair policy to file discrimination lawsuit
CNN  — 

A Black Texas high school student has been suspended for more than a week because his loc hairstyle violated the district’s dress code, his mother said. It could become a test of a new state law that bans discrimination based on hairstyles.

Darryl George, a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, received multiple disciplinary action notes and was placed on in-school suspension for wearing his locs hairstyle in a ponytail, his mother, Darresha George, told CNN.

She said Darryl was suspended the same week the state’s CROWN Act, a law prohibiting discrimination based on one’s hair texture or protective hairstyle such as locs and braids, went into effect.

The school and the Barbers Hill Independent School District did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment. A district spokesperson told CNN affiliate KTRK that the hair length rule doesn’t conflict with the CROWN Act.

The 17-year-old’s mother said he is frustrated by the situation.

“He’s very anxious, very aggravated right now because he keeps getting punished for something that’s irrelevant to his education,” she said.

George said her family has hired a lawyer and is considering legal action.

School officials told George his loc hairstyle violated the Barbers Hill Independent School District dress and grooming code which states, “Male students’ hair will not extend, at any time, below the eyebrows or below the ear lobes.”

The policy goes on to state, “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.”

George was reprimanded by a school official for his locs and for wearing frayed jeans, which are also prohibited.

His mother said the school told the 17-year-old he could change his clothes, but he would also have to cut his hair. When the teen did not cut his hair, he was put on in-school suspension.

On September 8, George received an additional five days of punishment because he had “hair below his eyebrows when let down,” his mother said.

He now faces being placed in a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program, also known as alternative school, if he doesn’t cut his hair by the end of this week, she added.

When George told school officials she believed their policies were in violation of the CROWN Act, she said officials told her the law does not apply to limitations on hair length.

“I want to see their policy change and stop being discriminatory against Black kids. I want to see my son out of ISS (in-school suspension). I don’t want any other child that’s coming behind my son to go through this again,” she said.

She said her son will not cut his locs and the family will continue to fight the school’s policy.

Allie Booker, an attorney representing the family, told CNN she believes the rules around male hairstyles single out Black students. Locs, a hairstyle in which hair strands are coiled, braided, twisted or palm-rolled to create a rope-like appearance, is a style that originated in Africa and has become a part of Black culture. Critics have said forcing children of color to cut their locs or discouraging them to wear their hair in a protective hairstyle like braids or locs is like taking away a sense of their cultural identity.

“It leads you to believe that OK, even when let down, long hair is not allowed – even if it’s loc’d and it’s put up in a neat manner,” she said. “So basically, you have to cut your locs; you have to cut your braids.”

The Texas Legislative Black Caucus has condemned the suspension and called for the violations to be removed from George’s school record. The caucus also asked the school district to update its code to “reflect compliance” with the new state law.

“Without remedial action from you, this unacceptable situation will continue a dangerous precedent against students who may face undue disciplinary actions despite codified protections passed by state lawmakers,” Texas state Rep. Ron Reynolds, the caucus chairman and an author of the state’s CROWN Act, wrote in a Friday letter to Barbers Hill Independent School District Superintendent Greg Poole and school principal Lance Murphy.

This is not the first time the school district has faced legal action regarding its hair policy.

In 2020, Sandy Arnold, her son, DeAndre and fellow Barbers Hill Independent School District parent Cindy Bradford sued the school district, claiming the district’s grooming policies amounted to racial discrimination and violated the students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Both students wore loc hairstyles and had been asked to cut them to comply the district’s policy on hair length, CNN previously reported.

DeAndre Arnold was also told if he didn’t cut his locs, he would not be able to participate in his graduation ceremony. Instead of cutting his hair, Arnold transferred to another school district, CNN previously reported.

At the time the district’s Superintendent Greg Poole told CNN the policy was fully within the realms of the law.

“People want to call us racist, but we’re following the rules, the law of the land,” he said.

Later that year, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction blocking the district from enforcing its hair-length policy against Bradford’s son. That case is ongoing, according to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which represents the plaintiffs.

In May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the state’s CROWN Act. Arnold told CNN affiliate KTRK that the law’s passage was the “most validating feeling.”

“After all this time to get what we’ve been fighting for, this made everything worth it because I know now they can never do anything like this to anybody else in the state of Texas,” he said.

Two dozen states have enacted versions of a CROWN Act, according to the Economic Policy Institute. California was the first to pass the measure in 2019. Legislation for a national CROWN Act has been unsuccessful.