Texas school district keeps policy that banned student with dreadlocks from graduating

Texas school district keeps policy that banned student with dreadlocks from graduating
File photo dreadlocks via Flickr (Frank Lepper)

MONT BELVIEU, Texas — A Texas school district will uphold a policy that requires male students to keep their hair above a certain length.

Kaden Bradford and De’Andre Arnold made headlines in January after the two high school students were suspended from the Barbers Hill Independent School District in Mont Belvieu, Texas, for having dreadlocks that were too long.

The suspension meant Arnold, a senior, would not be able to attend prom or walk at his graduation unless he cut his hair. In addition to just personally liking their hairstyles, Bradford and Arnold said dreadlocks are a sort of homage to their family’s Caribbean roots.

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“My hair is really important to me because my dad is from Trinidad and it’s part of our culture and our heritage. I really wish the school would be open to other cultures,” Arnold said in a January interview.

Arnold said he was given the option of attending classes via in-school suspension away from his classmates until he cut his hair, but he and his mother refused the option and kept him home from school until the school considered changing the policy. It didn’t.

National outrage garnered the attention of celebrity athletes, entertainers and government officials. Arnold was invited to appear on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where he was gifted a $20,000 scholarship to be put toward college.

“I just personally think you should be able to wear your hair however you want,” DeGeneres said at the time. “I don’t think it’s fair.”

Singer Alicia Keys also appeared on the show and showed her support for Arnold.

“I am super proud of you for standing up for what you know is right,” Keys told him. “You’re a special person and you’re destined for such greatness.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed grievances on behalf of Arnold and Bradford, who are cousins, claiming the policy was discriminatory.

In partnership with the Juvenile and Children’s Advocacy Project of Texas, the ACLU provided more than 200 pages of documentation showing white male students in the district with hair just as long as Bradford’s and Arnold’s, but the district “denied the grievances immediately after the arguments concluded without asking any questions or engaging in discussion,” the ACLU said in a statement

The school district’s board of trustees voted unanimously on Monday to keep the policy in place.

“It is evident that this policy discriminates against and harms Black students,” said Brian Klosterboer, an attorney for the ACLU. “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.”

Hans Graff, an attorney for the school district, said the cousins want to attend schools in the district because of their academic excellence but don’t want to follow the rules.

“They want the standards without having to meet the standards. 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,’” Graff said.

Earlier this year, after the school district issued a similar comment on social media. Bernice King, the daughter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., said Arnold’s hairstyle does not “reflect ... a deviation from what should be a ‘high expectation’ at a school.”

Christina Beeler, an attorney with the Juvenile and Children’s Advocacy Project, called last week’s decision “disappointing.”

“De’Andre and Kaden have both been forced to choose between their right to an education and their identities as young Black men with locs,” she said. “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.”

Bradford, who has two more years of high school, transferred to another school, CBS News reported.