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Society

Trial to Determine if Texas School’s Punishment of a Black Student Over His Hair Violates New Law

February 22, 2024

ANAHUAC, Texas (AP) — A trial is set to be held Thursday to determine if a Black high school student in Texas can continue being punished by his district for refusing to change his hairstyle, which he and his family say is protected by a new state law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination.

At issue is whether Darryl George’s monthslong punishment for violating his Houston-area school district’s dress code policy limiting the length of boys’ hair violates the CROWN Act.

The bench trial is being held before state District Judge Chap Cain III in Anahuac after the Barbers Hill school district filed a lawsuit seeking clarification of the new law. The trial was scheduled to last one day, with Cain expected to issue a decision soon after its conclusion.

The CROWN Act, which took effect in September, prohibits race-based hair discrimination and bars employers and schools from penalizing people because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including Afros, braids, locs, twists or Bantu knots.

Supporters of Darryl George hold signs during a protest outside of the home of Barbers Hill Independent School District superintendent Greg Poole, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 in Baytown, Texas. The group gathered in support ahead of a Thursday bench trial for Darryl George, a student who was punished over his hairstyle. George, who is Black and has been kept out of his regular classes since Aug. 31, 2023, says his hairstyle is protected by a new state law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination. (AP Photo/Juan Lozano)

“I love my hair, it is sacred and it is my strength,” George has said in court documents.

The Barbers Hill school district said George’s long hair, which he wears in tied and twisted locs on top of his head, violates its dress code policy because it would fall below his shirt collar, eyebrows or earlobes when let down. The district has said other students with locs comply with the length policy.

George, an 18-year-old junior, has not been in his regular classroom at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu since Aug. 31. Instead he has either been serving in-school suspension or spending time in an off-site disciplinary program.

In court documents, the school district maintains its policy does not violate the CROWN Act because the law does not mention or cover hair length.

In a paid ad that ran in January in the Houston Chronicle, Barbers Hill Superintendent Greg Poole wrote that districts with a traditional dress code are safer and have higher academic performance and that “being an American requires conformity.”

But Allie Booker, George’s attorney, has argued the Texas lawmakers who wrote the CROWN Act had safeguarding hair length in mind as many of the hairstyles protected by the new law require hair to be long.

Several of the lawmakers who wrote the CROWN Act were expected to testify on behalf of George.

Shan’Terrius Sly-Brown, 16, left, and Shaniya Wade-Red, 15, hold signs during a protest outside of the home of Barbers Hill Independent School District superintendent Greg Poole, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 in Baytown, Texas. The teenagers traveled from Holmes County in Mississippi to participate in the protest and attend a Thursday bench trial for Darryl George, a student who was punished over his hairstyle. George, who is Black and has been kept out of his regular classes since Aug. 31, 2023, says his hairstyle is protected by a new state law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination. (AP Photo/Juan Lozano)

One of them, state Rep. Rhetta Bowers, said in an affidavit that “length is protected because it is essentially why protective styles are worn.”

George’s family has also filed a formal complaint with the Texas Education Agency and a federal civil rights lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with the school district, alleging they failed to enforce the CROWN Act. The lawsuit is before a federal judge in Galveston.

Barbers Hill’s hair policy was previously challenged in a May 2020 federal lawsuit filed by two other students. Both withdrew from the high school, but one returned after a federal judge granted a temporary injunction, saying the student showed “a substantial likelihood” that his rights to free speech and to be free from racial discrimination would be violated if the student was not allowed to return to campus. That lawsuit remains pending.

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By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press

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