A school district in east Texas has decided to maintain its racist grooming policy that resulted in the suspension of two Black teens earlier this year.
According to a report from NPR, the board of Barbers Hill Independent School District voted unanimously to keep its policy prohibiting male-identifying students from having hair that goes "below the top of a t-shirt collar, below the eyebrows, or below the ear lobes.”
This policy, which is troubling for a number of reasons, led school administrators to suspend cousins Kaden Bradford and De'Andre Arnold in January. The students, a sophomore and senior at the time, wear their hair in dreadlocks.
"Especially in this moment, coming so soon after George Floyd's death, and the largest protests in our nation's history, so many different institutions right now are examining systemic racism and implicit bias, and looking within themselves," Brian Klosterboer, an ACLU of Texas attorney who represents Bradford, told NPR. "This was an opportunity for the school board to revise and change its policies so that it could be inclusive and affirming of all students, regardless of sex and race."
When the board meeting took place on Monday, an attorney for the school district defended the policy claiming the rule promoted “academic excellence.”
"They want the standards without having to meet the standards," attorney Hans Graff said, as reported by Houston Public Media. "They want to be treated differently. They're saying, 'We want the academic excellence, we want the excellence of Barbers Hill. But we don't want to comply with what it takes to achieve that.'”
Comments like these are packed with racist implications that somehow long dreads or non-European hairstyles inherently lower academic success. Also, “they” who? The rule requires these students to relinquish control over their bodies, their hair, their cultural and racial identity, for the sake of who? Arnold has attended school in the district his entire life, but his hair gave administrators cause to prevent the senior from going to his prom or walking in his high school graduation.
"Anyone who's met Kaden and De'Andre, these students, knows how incredibly excellent they are," Klosterboer told NPR. "They have now sacrificed being away from their friends—being isolated at school—to stand up for their constitutional rights, and to stand up for their heritage, their family and their culture and for what they believe. And that is excellent."
Regardless of their academic excellence, no Black student should fear attending a school that polices and punishes them because of their hair. Both Arnold and Bradford changed schools in order to carry out the rest of the school year. Their parents sued the district in May.
"Black students are and have been disproportionately targeted and penalized for violating facially race-neutral grooming policies that are designed to, and have the effect of, profiling, singling out, and burdening Black children for wearing their hair in its natural state," the lawsuit's complaint reads. "These grooming policies ultimately present Black students with an unfair choice: either wear their hair in natural formations and be deprived of adequate educational resources or conform their hair to predominant Eurocentric hair aesthetics to receive the same educational opportunities as their white peers."
The lawsuit is still underway.