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Protecting protective hairstyles: Student fighting to get back into the classroom with his locs

Trial underway for suspended student Darryl George over locs hairstyle
Trial underway for suspended student Darryl George over locs hairstyle 00:54

CHAMBERS COUNTY - A bench trial Thursday, six months in the making, will determine whether Barbers Hill ISD violated the CROWN Act when moving Darryl George to in-school suspension over his locs hairstyle.

"It's my roots," he said of the style. "It's how I feel closer to my people, how I feel closer to my ancestors."

Barbers Hill ISD removed the Black 18-year-old student from regular classes Aug. 31, stating he was not complying with the dress code in regards to the length of his locs hairstyle. 

During a press conference ahead of the trial, George shared how he's feeling. 

"It's put a lot of emotions on me—anger, sadness, disappointment," he said. "It makes me very angry that throughout all these years, throughout all the fighting for the Black history that we've already done, we still have to do this again and again and again. It's ridiculous."

Darryl George
Darryl George Michael Wyke / AP

The school district's dress code outlines that male students' hair must not "extend, at any time, below the eyebrows or below the ear lobes" or "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."

However, George's mother Darresha George filed a complaint on his behalf, maintaining BHISD violated the Texas CROWN Act. The law, which went into effect just one day after George's suspension, protects those who wear protective hairstyles such as braids, twists and locs. She also previously filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton for not enforcing the law.

Darresha George, mother of Darryl George
Darresha George, mother of Darryl George. Michael Wyke / AP

Protective hairstyles are meant to do just that—protect the hair. Styling or manipulating natural hair with heat and chemicals can be damaging, sometimes irreversibly so. However, styles such as braids, twists, locs, etc. are a way to celebrate natural hair in a world that sometimes challenges its professionalism.

Protecting protective hairstyles: Student fighting to get back into the classroom with his locs 01:08

State Rep. Rhetta Bowers (D) Houston, who authored the Texas CROWN Act, says BHISD's actions are a direct violation of the law.

"They say, if you don't stand for anything, you'll fall for everything," she said. "They would not step aside, they would not move to another school district. The legislation is being tested and it needs a fighter like Darryl George."

Superintendent Dr. Greg Poole has defended the district's actions, saying length is not mentioned in the law, which is why BHISD filed its own lawsuit, asking a state court judge to clarify whether the law is being violated.

Education Hair Discrimination
Darryl George showing his locs hairstyle Sept. 10, 2023. Darresha George / AP

"Texas law mandates that there can be no implied meaning with interpreting statutes. The CROWN Act says nothing about hair length, and State Rep. Rhetta Bowers, the legislation's chief author, stated publicly in a TV interview that the bill was never intended to protect the length of hair," said Poole in a statement to CBS News Texas. "The CROWN Act was meant to allow braids, locs or twists, which the district has always allowed. The law was never intended to allow unlimited student expression."

When asked for a response, Bowers disagreed.

"We are not discussing unlimited student expression. We're addressing race-based hair discrimination," she said. "Though the law does not mention the word length directly, the protective style locs is protected entirely by the CROWN Act."

BHISD does have a religious exemption for its dress code, and Bowers explained why George shouldn't be denied that, considering the cultural nuances of the hairstyle.

"For some people that lock their hair in our culture, it is religious—they say the locs have energy ... they say the growth of your locs make you closer to God," she shared. "It's something that was denied him that I certainly believe shouldn't have been denied him."

BHISD previously clashed with two other Black male students over the dress code.

District officials told cousins De'Andre Arnold and Kaden Bradford they had to cut their locs in 2020. The two students' families sued the school district in May 2020, and a federal judge later ruled the district's hair policy was discriminatory. Their case, which garnered national attention and remains pending, helped spur Texas lawmakers to pass the CROWN Act. Both students withdrew from the school, with Bradford returning after the judge's ruling. 

Bowers said it's unfortunate to need a law to protect protective hairstyles in the classroom or the boardroom in the first place. 

"We knew there was a need and it certainly is proving itself to be necessary," Bowers said. "We have to stand by it behind it and follow it through so that it is accepted and that it is followed properly."

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