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Court Rules Texas School District Can't Make Black Teen Cut Dreadlocks

HARRIS COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM/CNN) — A Texas teenager, who was punished over the length of his dreadlocks, won't have to cut his hair to return to school after a federal court blocked the district from enforcing its hair-length policy against him.

District Court Judge George C. Hanks, Jr. issued a preliminary injunction this week that requires the Barbers Hill Independent School District in Mont Belvieu, Texas, to allow Kaden Bradford to attend school and participate in extracurricular activities without cutting his hair.

Bradford, who is returning to Barbers Hill High School for his junior year, has been wearing his hair in locs since the seventh grade and hasn't cut it since then because the locs would unravel.

"Locs is a natural Black hair formation and I am an African American," he told CNN. "Also to piggyback off of that I've grown up around the Trinidadian culture and locs is a very important part in that culture as well."

He wore his locs up in a hairband to comply with the school's grooming code, which said male students' hair "will not extend, at any time, below the eyebrows, below the ear lobes, or below the top of a T-shirt collar."

Kaden Bradford
(credit: CNN/Juanell Core/J. Core Photography)

The district -- which is about 30 miles east of Houston -- tightened its policy in December, saying that male students could not wear their hair gathered up in a style that would be too long when it's let down.

Bradford was told to cut his hair in January and was given in-school suspension when he did not comply. He transferred to another school to finish out the school year.

Leaving the friends and classmates he grew up with was tough and he only knew two people when he started at the new school.

"It was really hard. Probably one of the most hardest things that I will ever do in my life," he said.

National Attention

Bradford's cousin DeAndre Arnold was also given in-school suspension for having his hair in long locs and was told he couldn't walk in his graduation ceremony unless he cut his hair.

Arnold's case drew national attention and celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres and Alicia Keyes offered their support. "Not a lot of kids that have came through Barbers Hill have had locs like we have, so yeah, of course I felt that I was being targeted because of my significant hairstyle," Bradford said.

Only 3.1% of the students in the district, which is east of Houston, are Black, according to its website.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund represented both students and their families in their lawsuit. "We are encouraged by the court's decision to grant our request to enjoin enforcement of BHISD's discriminatory dress and grooming policy," said senior counsel Michaele Turnage Young in a statement.

"It is heartening that the court has recognized K.B.'s (Bradford's) prospects for success on our race discrimination, gender discrimination, and freedom of expression claims in this lawsuit, and ensured that K.B. does not have to continue enduring discrimination that disrupts his learning and reinforces a damaging message of intolerance in the educational environment."

Barbers Hill Independent School District Superintendent Greg Poole has defended the policy and insisted that it is not racist.

In a statement issued Wednesday, he said he was disappointed by the decision. "This is the second injunction sought by the plaintiffs regarding the District's dress and grooming policy. We are disappointed with the most recent decision. This ruling has the potential to impact many school districts in the state of Texas that maintain similar dress code language. The Board of Trustees will consider its appellate options."

The district says its policy allows cornrows and dreadlocks, and only restricts their length.

A number of states -- including California, New York, New Jersey and Virginia -- have passed laws banning discrimination against people with natural Black hairstyles.

The Texas Legislative Black Caucus says it will introduce similar legislation next year.

Bradford said he's looking forward to going back to school and being back with his friends. "I was really relieved that you know, I'd be able to go back to school I'd be able to go back to normal environment that I've always known and grown up around," he said.

He hopes the lawsuit protects other students from having the same experience.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The CNN Wire™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report.)

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