A black student was suspended for his hairstyle. Now his family is suing the state
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Houston: The family of a black high school student in Texas who was suspended over his dreadlocks has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state’s governor and attorney general, alleging they failed to enforce a new law outlawing discrimination based on hairstyles.
Darryl George, 17, a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, has been serving an in-school suspension since August 31. Officials with the Houston-area school say his dreadlocks fall below his eyebrows and earlobes, and violate the district’s dress code.
Darryl George, 17, served a five-day in-school suspension for not cutting his hair.Credit: AP
George’s mother, Darresha George, and the family’s attorney deny the teenager’s hairstyle violates the dress code, saying his hair is neatly tied in twisted dreadlocks on top of his head.
Darryl George’s supporters allege the ongoing suspension by the Barbers Hill Independent School District violates the state’s CROWN Act [an acronym for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair], which took effect September 1.
The lawsuit also alleges that governor Greg Abbott and attorney-general Ken Paxton, in their official duties, have failed to protect George’s constitutional rights against discrimination and against violations of his freedom of speech and expression. George “should be permitted to wear his hair in the manner in which he wears it … because the so-called neutral grooming policy has no close association with learning or safety and when applied, disproportionately impacts black males,” Allie Booker, the family’s attorney, wrote in the lawsuit.
Spokespeople for Abbott and Paxton, both Republicans, did not immediately return emails seeking comment.
Darresha George shows the unsigned suspension form her son Darryl received on his return to school.Credit: AP
The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order to stop George’s in-school suspension while the case is in court.
“Time to bring the fight to Barbers Hill ISD [Independent School District]. We’re going to drop the hammer of accountability in the face of racism,” Candice Matthews, national minister of politics for the New Black Panther Nation and a spokesperson for George’s family, said in a statement Saturday.
The lawsuit, filed in Houston Federal Court by George’s mother, is the latest legal action taken related to the suspension.
On Tuesday, Darresha George and her attorney filed a formal complaint with the Texas Education Agency, alleging Darryl George is being harassed and mistreated by school district officials over his hair, and that his in-school suspension violates the CROWN Act.
Darryl George and his mother Darresha George.Credit: AP
They allege that during his suspension, George is forced to sit for eight hours on a stool and that he’s being denied the free hot lunch he’s qualified to receive. The agency is investigating the complaint.
Darresha George said she was recently hospitalised after a series of panic and anxiety attacks brought on by stress related to her son’s suspension.
On Wednesday, the school district filed its own lawsuit in State Court, asking a judge to clarify whether its dress code restrictions limiting student hair length for boys violates the CROWN Act.
Barbers Hill Superintendent Greg Poole has said he believes the dress code is legal and that it teaches students to conform as a sacrifice benefiting everyone.
The school district said it would not enhance the current punishment against Darryl George while it waits for a ruling on its lawsuit.
The CROWN Act is intended to prohibit race-based hair discrimination and bars employers and schools from penalising people because of hair texture or protective hairstyles, including Afros, braids, dreadlocks, twists or Bantu knots. Texas is one of 24 states that have enacted a version of the act.
A federal version passed in the US House last year, but was not successful in the Senate.
State representative Rhetta Bowers, who authored Texas’ version of the CROWN Act, said on Friday that George’s hairstyle is protected by the new law, and she called on the Barbers Hill school district to end his suspension.
“The Texas CROWN Act was passed to prevent situations like this, and it is very disappointing to see Barbers Hill ISD attempt to find loopholes to skirt the law and perpetuate hair discrimination,” Bowers said in a statement.
George’s school previously clashed with two other black male students over the dress code.
Barbers Hill officials told cousins De’Andre Arnold and Kaden Bradford they had to cut their dreadlocks 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 approve the state’s CROWN Act law. Both students withdrew from the school, with Bradford returning after the judge’s ruling.
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