A Black Student Was Suspended Twice for His Dreadlocks, Despite a State Ban on Race-Based Hair Discrimination

Now, he’s potentially facing placement in a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DEAP).

Credit: AP Photo
Credit: AP Photo

A Black teenager in Texas was suspended for more than two weeks after wearing dreadlocks to school. He believes this is discrimination, but the school says it’s just enforcing the dress code.

17-year-old Darryl George is a junior at Barbers Hill High School, near Houston. The school has a strict dress and grooming policy, which mandates that male students’ hair can’t extend below the eyebrows or ear lobes, even if it's pulled back.

School officials reportedly reprimanded George multiple times for his hairstyle, saying that his dreadlocks violated this policy.

Now, he’s potentially facing placement in a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DEAP).

“My son is well-groomed, and his hair is not distracting from anyone’s education,” George’s mother, Darresha George, said. “This has everything to do with the administration being prejudiced toward Black hairstyles, toward Black culture.”

George’s suspension happened just days after Texas’ CROWN Act — a.k.a. the Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act — took effect. The new law prevents race-based hair discrimination, as well as prohibits schools and employers from reprimanding people based on hair texture or certain hairstyles, including twists, braids, and dreadlocks.

This case is testing the new law, because although dreadlocks are a protected hairstyle, the school is arguing that it's not violating the CROWN Act, since hair length isn’t protected by law.

Greg Poole, the district superintendent, also argued that the effort students make to conform to dress and grooming codes can be beneficial.

“When you are asked to conform ... and give up something for the betterment of the whole, there is a psychological benefit,” Poole said. “We need more teaching (of) sacrifice.”

Civil rights advocates worry that hair-focused dress codes, such as the one at Barbers Hill, can lead not just to racial, cultural, or religious discrimination, but also to discrimination based on outdated gender norms, such as the idea that men should have short hair.

And for many cultures, hair isn’t just about looks.

Dreadlocks, for instance, are a way to connect to one’s Black heritage, according to many advocates.

“Our hair is where our strength is, that’s our roots,” Darresha said. “He has his ancestors locked into his hair, and he knows that.”

George’s family is now considering taking legal action against the school, which would really test the limits of the state’s CROWN Act. Attorneys for the school have also asked a court to clarify “whether the newly passed CROWN Act prohibits grooming policies addressing the length of a male student’s hair,” per district spokesperson David Bloom. The way this case shakes out could have a huge impact on whether this type of hair regulation will continue to be allowed in schools and workplaces.

George’s majority-white school district has suspended Black students over their hairstyles before. Three years prior to the CROWN Act going into effect, two students were placed on suspension for their dreadlocks, with the school making them choose between cutting their hair or being enrolled in an alternate school.