Family of Black Teen Suspended Over Hairstyle Files Federal Lawsuit
On August 31, 17-year-old Black student Darryl George was reprimanded with an in-school suspension for wearing his natural hair in twisted braids. Today, his family is suing the state over what they say was a violation of their son’s civil rights.
The federal civil rights lawsuit was filed over the weekend against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the state's attorney general after the family says officials failed to enforce a new law that allows individuals to wear their natural hair without fear of discrimination.
The CROWN Act, (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act) was first passed in 2019 in California and was aimed at protecting individuals from discrimination based on their hairstyle. Since then, over 20 states, including Texas, have passed similar legislation. The new law went into effect in Texas on the first of September, one day after George was suspended.
The teen, who is a student at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, was accused of violating the school district’s policy. The policy details that male students’ hair cannot "be gathered or worn in a style that would allow the hair to extend below the top of a t-shirt collar, below the eyebrows, or below the ear lobes when let down."
The teen's mother, Darresha George, says that her son did not violate the school board policy and is being targeted because of the way he wears his hair. The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, explains that the teen wears his hair as an "outward expression of his Black identity and culture," and that his hair does not come below the eyebrows nor extend below his T-shirt collar.
Despite the school policy, the family’s lawsuit maintains that the Texas CROWN Act should be enforced as it protects her son from being discriminated against because of his natural hair.
State Rep. Rhetta Bowers, who authored the legislation, shares that under the CROWN Act, it is illegal for an individual to face "discrimination on the basis of hair texture or protective hairstyle associated with race." The law specifically makes mention of “protected hairstyles” which includes “braids, locks, and twists.”
The family’s lawyer, Allie Booker, explains that the teen “should be permitted to wear his hair in the manner in which he wears it … because the so-called neutral grooming policy has no close association with learning or safety and when applied, disproportionately impacts Black males.”
Prior to filing the lawsuit, Darresha George and her legal team had filed a formal complaint with the Texas education agency arguing that the teen was being harassed by his school and suffering from mistreatment because of the way he wears his hair.
Among the claims were allegations that the teen was forced to sit on a stool for eight hours while serving his in-school suspension and that he was denied a hot free lunch that he was entitled to.
The family’s lawsuit is seeking a temporary restraining order and an injunction to stop George's suspension while the case is in federal court. The school district has also filed a lawsuit of its own asking the court to clarify whether its dress code policy is in violation of the CROWN Act.