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Black teenager suspended over dreadlocks in Texas heads to court in CROWN Act case

A Black teenager in Texas repeatedly suspended over his dreadlocks will get his day in court on Thursday in a case that advocates say has broad implications for racial hair discrimination.

Darryl George, 18, has been in in-school suspension for months after Barbers Hill High School said his hair violates policy. His family sued, saying the school’s regulations go against Texas’s newly established CROWN Act.  

Allie Booker, George’s attorney, says the case ties into a larger movement “regarding discrimination of minority groups as a whole.”

The case is based on a section in the school’s handbook that contains a rule stating male students cannot have their hair past their eyebrows or earlobes. George wears his dreadlocks on the top of his head, away from his face and neck.

Victoria Kirby York, director of public policy and programs at the National Black Justice Coalition, said Texas’s “law highlights the importance of cultural hairstyles but does not take into consideration the gender expression component.” Barbers Hill High, she said, “was able to opt out of the policy” by saying it did not apply specifically to the hair length of male students.

“They’re saying that this isn’t about the African heritage, this is about the length of the hairstyle, and that the length is inappropriate. But when you ask the question, ‘Why is the length inappropriate?’ The answer is because it, and let’s be clear, the length is only inappropriate for boys,” York said.  

For years there have been efforts to get a national version of the CROWN Act, which prevents racial discrimination based on hairstyles, through Congress, but they have been unsuccessful.

The White House said back in 2022 it “strongly supports” CROWN Act legislation and that the president “believes that no person should be denied the ability to obtain a job, succeed in
school or the workplace, secure housing, or otherwise exercise their rights based on a hair texture or hair style.”

The goal, according to the National Urban League, is to create “a more equitable and inclusive experience for Black people through the advancement of anti-hair discrimination legislation.” To that effort, the group says there has been “tremendous success elevating the public narrative around this important issue and inspiring a movement to end hair bias.”

State District Judge Chap Cain said in January that arguments in the case would be heard on Feb. 22 but did not issue a temporary injunction, leaving George in suspension through much of his junior year as the case plays out.  

George’s family has also filed suit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and state Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), accusing them of failing to enforce the CROWN Act.

“We look forward to the Texas judicial system clarifying the CROWN Act,” said Greg Poole, superintendent of the Barbers Hill school district. “Hair length of male students is only constitutionally protected for Native American students. Length of hair is not protected in the Texas CROWN nor in any of the CROWN Acts in the 24 states that have one.”  

“The Texas CROWN Act protects hair texture and the wearing of braids, twists and locs. Those with agendas wish to make the CROWN Act a blanket allowance of student expression. Again, we look forward to this issue being legally resolved,” Poole added. 

William Hill, a legal strategist who worked on the law in Texas, acknowledges it does not directly address the length of hair because “in certain circumstances, the length of one’s hair could be a safety hazard” in a work setting. 

“They’re correct, it doesn’t address length because length really isn’t what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about those hairstyles that protect curly and coily hair,” Hill said, arguing “it seems that what the principal is trying to do is to impose his cultural aesthetic on the student body. It has nothing to do with safety. It has nothing to do with disrupting class because George’s hair is not all over the place.” 

Booker said the school previously had a rule that hair could be longer, but it had to be tied up, which students complied with.  

“What these individuals were doing was being able to tie up and sew up and put up their locs just like Darryl George is doing in an effort to comply with the dress and the grooming code,” Booker said. “Once [the principal] saw that a person could still have locs and be able to tie them up” language was changed in the handbook so hair had to be a certain length when let down.  

“Well, if somebody’s hair can’t come below the eyebrow, it’s not gonna be long enough for you to braid. It’s not going to be long enough for you to loc, especially coarse, Black hair,” she said.  

Booker says there has been “tremendous support” from the public over this case, and she is confident they will win in court. 

“One of the things that George constantly says is ‘I just want to be a regular kid. I just want to be a child, and they’re not letting me be a regular child. And then they’re discussing things with me that are just way above my head. They want to talk to me about constitutional rights and my role in my hair,’ and he’s like, ‘I’m just a kid,’” Booker said, adding “he’s just really frustrated.”  

While the hope for advocates is this case both strengthens and clarifies the CROWN Act, some think it may not be an easy process.  

As an elected official in Texas, the judge, Hill said, will face “social and political pressures” to side with the school policy, and then the “case will need to be appealed.” 

“If the judge is courageous enough to follow the law, then I think it means that these challenges to the CROWN Act will become more sophisticated, because it’s not going to discontinue challenges,” he said.  

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