Black High School Student Suspended Over His Hair Length Sues Texas Leaders

A Black high school student in Texas who was suspended because of the way he wears his hair, along with his mother, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Saturday against the state’s governor and attorney general.

Darryl George, 17, and his mother, Darresha George, said in the lawsuit that the state leaders failed to enforce a new Texas law that makes it illegal for schools and employers to discriminate against people with hairstyles “commonly or historically associated with race.”

The law, called the CROWN Act, went into effect on Sept. 1. The day before, Darryl was given an in-school suspension because officials at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, said that his hair violated the district’s dress code, according to the lawsuit.

Darryl, a high school junior, has locs, or long ropelike strands of hair, that he pins on his head in a barrel roll. He wears his locs as an “expression of cultural pride,” according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

As of Saturday, Darryl was still suspended from his high school, which is about 30 miles east of Houston. The in-school suspension requires him to sit on a stool in a cubicle, with work brought to him, according to his mother.

Barbers Hill Independent School District’s dress code mandates that a male student’s hair “will not extend, at any time, below the eyebrows or below the earlobes” or “below the top of a T-shirt collar.”

If Darryl’s locs are not pinned up or pulled back, his hair falls below that length.

A school district spokesman, David Bloom, told The New York Times this month that the dress code was “not in conflict” with the CROWN Act because the code permits protective hairstyles if the hair would not go beyond the permitted length when let down.

The district, which was not named as a defendant in the federal suit, filed a lawsuit last week asking a state court to clarify whether its dress code complies with the CROWN Act, KTRK-TV, a local news channel, reported.

“The district does not intend to enhance the current disciplinary action against the student for the ongoing violation of its grooming policy pending the court’s ruling on whether the district’s policy is legal,” the district said in a statement to the news station.

The George family’s lawsuit is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop Darryl’s suspension while the case moves through the federal court.

The lawsuit said that the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, and the attorney general, Ken Paxton, allowed the school to violate the CROWN Act. Their offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday. Mr. Bloom did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Abbott and Mr. Paxton are also accused of “purposely or recklessly” causing Ms. George and Darryl emotional distress by not intervening, the lawsuit said. Ms. George has become ill from the stress of the situation and has had a series of seizures, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also claims that Darryl’s protections under the federal Civil Rights Act are being violated because the dress code policy disproportionately affects Black male students.

Politicians and activists who support the George family have criticized the school.

State Representative Rhetta Andrews Bowers, a Democrat and the primary author of the CROWN Act, said in a statement on Friday that the school district was trying “to find loopholes to skirt the law and perpetuate hair discrimination” and called for it to stop disciplinary action against Darryl.

At least 24 states have adopted similar laws that make it illegal to discriminate against students or workers because of their hairstyle.

In May 2020, two cousins who attended high school in the same district as Darryl, DeAndre Arnold and Kaden Bradford, were suspended for the length of their dreadlocks. Their families sued and the case is still proceeding.