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Debate over a Black student's suspension over his hairstyle in Texas ramps up with probe and lawsuit


HOUSTON (AP) — The debate over whether a Black high school student in Texas should be serving in-school suspension for wearing twisted dreadlocks to class intensified this week as the student’s family and his school district both took legal action.

Darryl George, 17, a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, has been serving an in-school suspension since Aug. 31 at the Houston-area school. School officials say his dreadlocks fall below his eyebrows and ear lobes and violate the district’s dress code.

George’s mother, Darresha George, and the family’s attorney deny the teenager’s hairstyle violates the Barbers Hill Independent School District dress code and have accused the district of violating a new state law that outlaws racial discrimination based on hairstyles. The new law, the CROWN Act, took effect Sept. 1.

On Tuesday, Darresha George and her attorney filed a formal complaint with the Texas Education Agency, alleging that Darryl George was being harassed and mistreated by school district officials over his hair and that his in-school suspension was in violation of the CROWN Act.

On Wednesday, the agency notified Darresha George and her attorney that it will investigate the complaint.

Later Wednesday, the Barbers Hill school district announced it had filed a lawsuit in state district court asking a judge to clarify whether its dress code restrictions limiting student hair length for boys violates the CROWN Act. The lawsuit was filed in Chambers County, located east of Houston.

“Although we believe the new law does not govern hair length, we are asking the judicial system of Texas to interpret,” Barbers Hill Superintendent Greg Poole said in a statement.

The superintendent had previously said the dress code is legal and teaches students to conform as a sacrifice benefiting everyone.

Darresha George said the fight to have her son return to class has taken a toll on her mentally and physically. She said she was recently hospitalized after a series of panic and anxiety attacks brought on from stress.

“I try not to show everything because I have to stay strong for my son. I have to stay strong and stay in the fight,” Darresha George said. “But it is draining."

Darryl George did return to his regular first-period class on Wednesday morning, was welcomed by his teacher and classmates, and for a moment he “felt free for a little bit,” his mother said.

But soon after his return, the school principal pulled him out of class and returned him to in-school suspension over his hair and for allegedly wearing an earring, which his mother said he does not wear to school.

“So (the principal) snatched his freedom right back away,” Darresha George said.

In a statement, the school district said it would not enhance the current punishment against Darryl George while it waits for a ruling on its lawsuit.

The CROWN Act, an acronym for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” is intended to prohibit race-based hair discrimination and bars employers and schools from penalizing people because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including Afros, braids, dreadlocks, twists or Bantu knots. Texas is one of 24 states that have enacted a version of the CROWN Act.

A federal version of the CROWN Act passed in the House of Representatives last year, but was not successful in the Senate.

Darryl George's school previously clashed with another Black male student over the dress code. Barbers Hill officials told a student he had to cut his dreadlocks to return to school or participate in graduation in 2020, which garnered national attention. The student's mother withdrew him from the school and a federal judge later ruled the school district’s hair policy was discriminatory.

Darryl George’s family has said it plans to file a federal lawsuit against the school district.

“Barbers Hill, the hammer of accountability is coming. You will no longer discriminate or be racist or ignorant to no child on our watch,” said Candice Matthews, national minister of politics for the New Black Panther Nation, who is a family spokesperson.


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