By: April Carson
Dyree Williams' hair, which he has proudly worn in twists, braids, and locks all his life — is part of his identity and a direct link to his ancestors. But, unfortunately, the way he wears his hair has been deemed "unacceptable" by administrators at his High School in Texas.
After moving from Cincinnati, Ohio, to East Bernard, Texas, in February, Williams' hair became an issue. His new school's dress code prohibited "braided hair or corn rows," which is something that went against his sense of self.
"When you cut your hair, you're cutting off your line to your ancestors, your lineage, and everything else," Desiree Bullock said. "And it's just not an option... We don't consider them dreadlocks because we adore them."
The school's student handbook, which contains the district's hair policy, states that "Boy's hair may not extend below the brows, ears, or a regular standup shirt collar and must not be more than one-inch different in length on each side."
"I don't think we're going to be able to do that," Bullock said. "That is not an option for either of us."
The policy also states that "Extreme haircuts or colors are not permitted."
"It was just very discriminatory," Bullock said. "I understand they want everyone to look the same, but you can't tell us that our African American hairstyles are extreme."
The handbook obtained by ABC News was published in June, and it has been taken down from the school's website. "This includes long hair draped over shaved sides or backs of the head, as well as towering hairstyles, swept bangs, and long locks trailing over shaven sides or backs of the head," according to the handbook. Corn rows will not be allowed; neither should braided hair or cornrows. "No exaggerated styles" is included in the list of prohibited haircuts."
The East Bernard Independent School District and East Bernard High School have not responded to numerous requests for comment from CNN.
The dress code policy was too restrictive, and Bullock wanted the school to relax it so that she could attend a presentation by Williams in person. However, the institution's top brass only sent them back to the student handbook for the dress code policy instead of allowing some flexibility.
The superintendent denied the religious exemption, so she appealed to the superintendent, who also denied it.
"The exemption request you submitted has not been approved at this time," Superintendent Courtney Hudgins of East Bernard Independent School District informed Bullock in an email. "Assuming the youngsters can fulfill the dress code standards as well as all required paperwork for enrollment, they are welcome to enroll with our registrar. Please contact the registrar to schedule an appointment for enrollment. If you have any more questions regarding school uniform policy, please contact the campus principal."
Clerical errors were discovered on a submitted change to the district's policy that Bullock originally requested. However, he has not received a response from the district.
Brian Klosterboer, an ACLU of Texas attorney, told CNN that East Bernard ISD's hair policy is "clearly discriminatory" and needs to be altered. "The policy includes explicit gender discrimination that has been found to be unconstitutional and violate Title IX by the courts," he added. "It also explicitly forbids 'braided hair or twisted rows/strands,' which is a proxy for race discrimination and disproportionately affects Black students in the district."
Students in Texas must attend the school district where they have legal residence. Right now, transferring to another region isn't a viable alternative, Bullock stated, and she is homeschooling Williams and his two sisters as a result.
"I'm feeling really sick in my stomach," she added. "I believe that the hair policy needs to be changed, and I believe it's bad, and it's only targeting African American children or people."
According to the Texas Education Agency, only 6.1% of the school district's pupils are Black.
The school district did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment.
A petition started by Bullock urging the school district to change its policy has garnered over 8,000 signatures. "We are asking that the hair policy be changed and that it does not discriminate against our African American students," the petition reads. "This is 2020 and we are still fighting for our children to be accepted with their natural hair.
Williams would be in his junior year of high school, a major turning point for many high-school students as they prepare to go to college, Bullock said. He feels bad because he's missing out on opportunities to run track and get noticed by scouts for college scholarships due to his age.
The CROWN Act, which stands for "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair," was recently passed by the US House of Representatives. The bill seeks to prevent prejudice based on hair texture and protective styles, such as tucks, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and Afros.
The House bill now goes to the Senate, where Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey is sponsoring the chamber's version of the legislation.
The CROWN Act is already in effect in more than a dozen states, according to the Pew Research Center, following California's passage of it in 2019. The Massachusetts House has passed its version of the CROWN Act and will go before the state Senate.
However, many states have not enacted comprehensive legislation, making Williams' situation all too common. With more and more Black youth expressing that their hair has been penalized for various reasons, it's clear there is a tremendous amount of work to do.
In August 2020, a preliminary injunction was issued by US District Court Judge George C. Hanks, Jr. in Mont Belvieu, Texas instructing the Barbers Hill Independent School District to allow Kaden Bradford to attend school and take part in extracurricular activities without having his hair cut.
Bradford Arnold's cousin, DeAndre Arnold, was also given an in-school suspension for having long hair and was instructed he couldn't walk during his graduation ceremony unless he cut it.
On the heels of these events, it's clear that schools need to revisit their policies regarding hair and how they enforce them. In today's world, it can be extremely difficult to define what "unacceptable" hairstyles are.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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