Texas High School Student’s Suspension Over Hairstyle Sparks Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit

In a fiery battle for justice, the family of a determined Black high school student in Texas has taken the fight to a federal level. Darryl George, a 17-year-old junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, finds himself in the eye of a storm since August 31, 2023. School officials have issued him an in-school suspension, claiming that his neatly tied twisted dreadlocks violate the district’s dress code, reaching below his eyebrows and ear lobes. However, Darryl’s mother and their attorney vehemently deny that his hairstyle breaches any dress code regulations.

The battlefield for justice extends beyond the school gates. Darryl’s family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, alleging a failure to enforce the CROWN Act, a recently enacted state law that bans racial discrimination based on hairstyles. Supporters of Darryl argue that his ongoing suspension from the Barbers Hill Independent School District blatantly violates this new law, which came into effect on September 1.

The lawsuit accuses Abbott and Paxton of neglecting their official duties by not protecting Darryl George’s constitutional rights against discrimination. It also claims a violation of his freedom of speech and expression. The lawsuit asserts that Darryl should be allowed to wear his hair in his preferred manner, emphasizing that the so-called neutral grooming policy has no bearing on learning or safety and disproportionately affects Black males.

This lawsuit is just one piece of a multi-faceted legal battle. Darryl’s mother, Darresha George, and their attorney have also lodged a formal complaint with the Texas Education Agency, alleging harassment and mistreatment of Darryl by school officials regarding his hair. They claim that during his suspension, Darryl is subjected to sitting on a stool for eight hours and denied the hot free lunch he qualifies for. The Texas Education Agency has initiated an investigation into this complaint. Darresha George, battling stress-related panic and anxiety attacks caused by her son’s suspension, recently found herself hospitalized.

The school district, refusing to back down, has launched its own lawsuit in state court. They seek clarification on whether their dress code restrictions concerning hair length for boys violate the CROWN Act. Barbers Hill Superintendent Greg Poole has steadfastly maintained that the dress code is lawful and instills a culture of conformity for the greater good.

Amidst this legal tussle, the CROWN Act itself takes center stage. Standing for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” it is designed to eliminate race-based hair discrimination. The act prohibits employers and schools from penalizing individuals based on hair texture or protective hairstyles, including Afros, braids, dreadlocks, twists, or Bantu knots. Texas is one of 24 states to adopt this legislation.

Notably, a federal version of the CROWN Act passed in the U.S. House last year but faced challenges in the Senate.

This isn’t the first time Barbers Hill High School has been embroiled in such a controversy. In 2020, the school demanded that De’Andre Arnold and Kaden Bradford, both Black male students, cut their dreadlocks. The families of these two students filed a lawsuit against the school district in May 2020. A federal judge later ruled that the district’s hair policy was discriminatory. The case, which garnered national attention, remains pending. This significant legal battle played a pivotal role in motivating Texas lawmakers to pass the state’s CROWN Act law. While Bradford returned to school following the judge’s ruling, both students initially withdrew from the institution.

In this intense struggle for justice, Darryl George’s family, along with advocates of the CROWN Act, aim to shatter the shackles of discrimination based on hairstyle, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable educational environment.

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