Black high school student suspended in Texas because of dreadlocks files lawsuit

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(TEXAS) — The family of a Black Texas high school student who was suspended over his dreadlocks filed a federal lawsuit Saturday against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the state’s Attorney General Ken Paxton for allegedly not enforcing the state’s CROWN Act, a law which protects from hair discrimination.

The family filed the complaint alleging that Darryl George, a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, has been subjected to “improper discipline and abrogation of both his Constitutional and state rights,” as a result of the governor’s and the AG’s failure to provide equal protection and due process under the law for the plaintiffs; ensuring school districts and schools refrain from discrimination based on race and sex and from using the Crown Act of Texas to cause outright race and discrimination, according to a copy of the lawsuit ABC News obtained.

ABC News’ requests for comments from Abbott and Paxton were not immediately answered.

Darryl George has been sitting on a small stool at school every school day since Aug. 31, back aching, as he receives his schoolwork online or through a classmate, according to his mother Darresha George. The school claimed that his dreadlocks violated their dress and grooming code. He was recently issued an additional five days of in-school suspension (ISS) after already serving weeks of ISS.

“Every day my son comes home with tears in his eyes. He’s frustrated; he’s outraged, aggravated, and it’s breaking him down mentally, physically and emotionally,” Darresha George told ABC News. “I have to see him taking ibuprofen because his back hurts.”

Texas enacted the CROWN Act on Sept. 1, making it unlawful to discriminate against “protective hairstyles” in schools, Allie Booker, Darresha George’s attorney, told ABC News.

“Any student dress or grooming policy adopted by a school district, including a student dress or grooming policy for any extracurricular activity, may not discriminate against a hair texture or protective hairstyle commonly or historically associated with race,” according to the CROWN Act. “‘Protective hairstyle’ includes braids, locks and twists."”

The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” was passed with a bipartisan vote in the Texas legislature and signed into law by Abbott in May.

State Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Houston), who was one of the authors of the Texas CROWN Act, told ABC News in an interview that he has spoken with the family and offered his support.

“We’re going to protect him. They’re not in it alone. So, we as the Texas Legislative Black Caucus stand behind him,” Reynolds said. “This was one of our top five legislative priorities this session, and we fought like hell to pass it and we won’t go quietly in the night.”

If the state doesn’t step in to release Darryl George from the school district’s disciplinary actions, Reynolds told ABC News that he will appeal to the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. He hopes the issue is resolved amicably, but if not, he has already had conversations with members of the Congressional Black Caucus who are ready to aid in the fight.

The school district sent ABC News a statement from Barbers Hill Independent School District Superintendent Greg Pool, which they emailed to students and their families last Wednesday.

“We recently had a mother bring her children from a neighboring district that has a different dress code than ours, knowing what our expectations are. She has utilized the media to present her case that we are unfairly treating her child,” the statement from the superintendent reads in part. “My high school son doesn’t like to cut his hair. You perhaps deal with the same issue in your household. Regardless, these same rules have existed longer than my time at Barbers Hill and the rules are applicable to ALL students unless they have legitimate reasons for a religious exemption.”

Reynolds told ABC News that the school district is stuck in the past, and that times have changed where it is common for males to wear longer hair than what used to be traditionally accepted by the status quo.

“There used to be where girls couldn’t wear pants, right?” Reynolds said. “I mean this is 2023. I’m sorry Barbers Hill [Independent School District]. You have to wake up.”

The school district told ABC News in a statement that their dress and grooming code does not conflict with the CROWN Act.

“The Barbers Hill ISD Dress and Grooming Code permits protective hairstyles, but any hairstyle must be in conformity with the requirement that male students’ hair will not extend, at any time, below the eyebrows or below the ear lobes,” the school district told ABC News in a statement. “Further, male students’ hair must not 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.”

The school district told ABC News in a statement that on Wednesday they filed a lawsuit in the judicial system of Texas to help them clarify the terms of the CROWN Act and whether the length of hair is a factor in the law. Reynolds said that clarification should have been made before they put a teenage boy through weeks of disciplinary actions.

Booker told ABC News that the family plans to file a discrimination lawsuit and an injunction to get Darryl George out of ISS.

Darresha George told ABC News that the school district is trivializing her son’s dreadlocks by labeling them as a violation of the district’s dress code. His locks are a representation of his culture and spirituality, Darresha George said.

“It’s part of his roots, part of his ancestors,” his mother said. “At the ends of his hair, we have his dad’s hair, his stepdad’s hair, and his brother’s hair actually sewn into his locks. So, cutting that off is cutting them off from him.”
 

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