A Black Texas high school student who has been suspended for more than a month over his locs hairstyle has been referred to an alternative school, sparking a legal battle over hair discrimination.
The CROWN Act and the Dress Code
Darryl George, 17, is a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas. He has been wearing his hair in locs, a protective hairstyle that is commonly associated with Black culture, since he was in seventh grade. His locs are intertwined with strands from his grandfather and father, and he considers them a part of his identity and heritage.
However, his hairstyle has been deemed a violation of the school district’s dress code, which places limitations on how long a male student’s hair can be. According to the policy, hair cannot be 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 and his mother, Darresha, argue that the policy is discriminatory and violates the Texas CROWN Act, a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of hairstyles “commonly or historically associated with race.” The law went into effect on September 1, 2023.
The CROWN Act stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. It is part of a national movement to end hair discrimination and celebrate the diversity and beauty of natural hair. So far, 13 states have passed the CROWN Act or similar legislation.
The Suspension and the Lawsuit
George has been suspended from school since September 18, 2023, for refusing to cut his hair. He has been attending classes online, but he has missed out on extracurricular activities and social interactions with his peers. He has also faced harassment and bullying from some students and staff members over his hairstyle.
On September 23, 2023, George and his mother filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the state’s attorney general, and school officials for allegedly failing to enforce the CROWN Act and protect George from discrimination. They are seeking an injunction to stop the district from punishing George and other students for their hairstyles.
On October 11, 2023, they received a notice from the school principal that George will be placed in a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP), also known as an alternative school, from October 12 to November 29. The notice cites violations for “multiple infractions of campus and classroom rules” including “disruption of the ISS classroom, failure to comply with directives from staff/administration, violation of tardy policy and violation of the dress and grooming policy.”
The notice also states that the family will not be able to appeal the referral to an alternative school, as the decision is final under the Texas Education Code.
The Reaction and the Response
The family’s attorney, Allie Booker, called the move “retaliation” for the family’s ongoing legal dispute with the school district. She said that sending George to an alternative school will stigmatize him and deprive him of educational opportunities.
“He’s being treated like a criminal for wearing his hair,” Booker said. “He’s being treated like he’s done something wrong when he hasn’t.”
Booker also said that the district’s dress code is inconsistent and arbitrary, as it allows female students and students of other races to wear their hair longer than male Black students.
The district’s superintendent, Greg Poole, defended the policy as “gender-neutral” and “race-neutral.” He said that the policy is based on community standards and expectations, and that it does not govern hair texture or style.
Poole also said that the district has asked a Texas court to clarify if its dress code violates the CROWN Act. He said that the district is willing to abide by the court’s ruling, but until then, it will continue to enforce its policy.
“We believe in our right to have local control over our schools,” Poole said. “We believe in our right to have a dress code that reflects our values.”