Earlier this year, DeAndre Arnold was suspended from Barbers Hill High School because his dreadlocks didn’t meet the school district’s dress code and he refused to cut them. On Monday (July 20), the school district voted unanimously to keep the grooming policy in place.
“It is evident that this policy discriminates against and harms Black students,” Brian Klosterboer, a lawyer for the ACLU of Texas, said in the statement. “The school district had the chance to examine systemic racism and change its discriminatory policies, but instead chose to continue spending taxpayer dollars to maintain this grooming code.”
Back in January, Arnold told KPRC that his hair was in compliance with the school’s rules until they changed them in the middle of the school year. His mother said they changed their dress code after Christmas break. The updated rules stated that “hair must be clean and well groomed” and a male student’s hair could not extend below the eyebrows, ear lobes and the top of their T-shirt collar, even while it’s let down.
Arnold’s suspension garnered national attention. He was invited on “The Ellen Show” with Ellen DeGeneres and given a $20,000 scholarship. He also attended this year’s Oscars alongside director Matthew A. Cherry, Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union.
“The Board’s decision is very disappointing. DeAndre [has been] forced to choose between [his] right to an education and [his] identity as a young Black man with locs,” said Christina Beeler, staff attorney for Juvenile and Children’s Advocacy Project of Texas. “The Board had an opportunity to be on the right side of history by changing their policy in response to the extensive evidence we provided, but they chose not to do so. Hopefully it will serve as a warning to other school districts as they consider how their dress codes can be more inclusive.”
A lawyer for the school district says the policy has nothing to do with race, but was about maintaining a certain level of excellence in the schools. That standard includes keeping a student’s hair short.