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Texas Superintendent Faces Backlash Over Suspension of Black Teen for Hair Length

A week after a Texas superintendent took out a newspaper ad to defend the suspension of Darryl George due to his hairstyle, the Black teen’s family filed a third request for a religious exemption to allow him to return to school, months after his initial disciplinary action.

Family’s Legal Battle Continues

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In September, George’s family filed a lawsuit against the state’s governor and attorney general, alleging that the state had failed to enforce a new law banning hair discrimination when the high school junior was suspended for having hair that the district deemed too long. George has faced multiple suspensions and disciplinary actions since then.

Superintendent’s Defense

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Greg Poole, the superintendent of the Barbers Hill Independent School District, took to the Houston Chronicle with a full-page advertisement on January 14, defending the suspension. In his ad, he argued that being an American required conformity and unity, using dress codes at military academies as an example.

Length, Not Style

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Poole contended that the suspension was based on George’s hair length, not style, which he believed was not protected under the recently passed Crown Act. He also emphasized the district’s history of progressiveness, highlighting Black school board members’ involvement in policy-setting during the 1970s and now.

Religious Exemption Request

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George’s family has twice applied for a religious exemption to the school’s dress code, which permits braids, locs, and twists but restricts boys’ hair from extending past their eyebrows and earlobes.

Both Requests Denied

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George wears locs that do not go beyond his ears, but both exemption requests were denied. In their latest exemption request, the family emphasized the significance of their hair as a connection to their roots and ancestors.

Call for Investigation

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On Tuesday, George’s mother filed a complaint calling for the Texas Education Agency to investigate the district. The complaint alleges that school officials failed to forward previous grievances to the district. The family had been informed that another denial memo would not be provided, according to shared emails.

Longstanding Conflict

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This conflict has spanned several months, with the family asserting that they are facing discrimination because of their race, and the district maintaining that they are enforcing a hair-length requirement that applies to all students. Mont Belvieu, Texas, a town approximately 30 miles east of Houston, is the backdrop for this dispute.

Allegations of Discrimination

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Allie Booker, the family’s attorney, argued that the district’s claims were a pretext and that they allow White males to have long hair while restricting Black students. She emphasized that the issue was about race and the perception of “nappy coarse hair” being too long.

Emotional Toll

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Candice Matthews, the state chair of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, spoke on behalf of the family, stating that George’s mother had experienced a mental breakdown due to the case. Matthews also revealed that George had contemplated cutting his hair to end the prolonged ordeal’s impact on his family. However, he has thus far resisted that option.

Upcoming Court Hearing

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On Wednesday, a hearing in Chambers County District Court could set a date for a possible injunction. Neither the school district nor the Barbers Hill Education Foundation, a nonprofit that paid for the advertisement, immediately responded to a request for comment.

Crown Act in Texas

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Texas is one of at least 24 states that have enacted versions of the Crown Act, designed to address discrimination, particularly against Black people, in the workplace or at school. Civil rights advocates nationwide argue that school hair and dress codes can perpetuate discrimination along racial, cultural, or religious lines and reinforce outdated gender stereotypes.

Defying the Law

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State Rep. Ron Reynolds, who co-authored the Texas law, asserted that the school district was violating the law meant to protect students like George. He called on the district to revise its dress code and cease disciplinary actions, insisting that the district’s argument of a legal loophole was baseless.

Legal Future

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Poole stated in the newspaper ad that the district had sought a court ruling on whether the dress code violated the Crown Act. Reynolds indicated that if the court ruled in favor of the district’s continued suspension of George, the family representatives could appeal the decision. He also expressed a willingness to rewrite the law during the next legislative session, if necessary.

Similar Past Incidents

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Several years before the Crown Act was passed, the same school district suspended DeAndre Arnold and Kaden Bradford for maintaining dreadlocks. Both students faced in-school suspension and the possibility of transferring schools if they did not cut their hair.

The Impact of Local Control

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Poole’s newspaper ad contended that the issue centered on local control and determining who should set the policies for the school district. Reynolds argued that the district’s stance on conforming to European standards while violating Texas law sent the wrong message to students about who can succeed. He compared this situation to states defending their noncompliance with federal civil rights-related laws in the past.

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