District Judge Cain rules Barbers Hill ISD’s Dress Code Policy does not violate CROWN Act

CHAMBER COUNTY – Judge Chap Cain last week determined that Barbers Hill ISD has not violated Texas’ CROWN Act after the district repeatedly suspended a Black student for the length of his dreadlocks.

Darryl George, an 18-year-old Black student at Barbers Hill High School east of Houston, has been repeatedly suspended for his dreadlocks. George’s family and legal team say his hair is protected under the CROWN Act, which prohibits race-based hair discrimination against students and employers, while the school district claims George has been in violation of the district’s grooming policy due to the length of his hair, not the style.

The CROWN Act, which was passed last year by Texas lawmakers, states that school districts cannot discriminate against those with hairstyles “commonly or historically associated with race” and specifically outlines protections for “braids, locks, and twists.” However, lingering questions over whether the law pertains to the district’s hair-length policy were at the center of District Judge Cain rules Barbers Hill ISD’s Dress Code Policy does not violate CROWN Act Thursday’s bench trial.

The trial comes months after Barbers Hill ISD filed a lawsuit asking a district judge to weigh in.

According to the district’s student handbook, a male student’s 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.” George has refused to cut his hair but has worn it up in a style that doesn’t go past his neck, eyebrows or earlobes.

During Thursday’s hearing, Allie Booker, a Houston-based attorney representing the George family, argued that the district’s policy wasn’t gender-neutral and discriminated against hairstyles like dreadlocks which, by nature, “have to be long in order to braid it and to lock it,” according to Booker.

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Houston-area Democrat who co-authored the CROWN Act, took the stand during Thursday’s trial and told Judge Chap B. Cain III that the law was written on the assumption that the specified hairstyles would be protected “regardless of whatever the length was.”

However, attorney Sara Leon, representing Barbers Hill ISD, argued that the Texas Legislature’s intent wasn’t mentioned in the law itself.

“We agree that no Barbers Hill student should suffer from any discrimination,” Leon said. “The Barbers Hill policy is race-neutral.”

Ultimately, Judge Cain sided with Barbers Hill ISD, declaring that the school district’s dress code doesn’t violate the CROWN Act, which he said could’ve been written to include hair-length exemptions for students with dreadlocks. Upon hearing Cain’s ruling, George and his mother were visibly distraught and left shortly after.

Before the hearing, George expressed the overwhelming frustration and isolation he felt as he continued to be punished for his hairstyle.

“It’s put a lot of emotions on me — anger, sadness,” George said. “Throughout all these years, throughout all the fighting for the Black history that we’ve already done, we still have to do this again and again and again. It’s ridiculous.”

As of now, the district’s punishment of George is free to continue. However, after the hearing, attorney Allie Booker said she planned to appeal the ruling and push for a federal injunction against the school district.

Rep. Reynolds added that he intended to create a new version of the CROWN Act that included protections for hair length during next year’s legislative session.

This comes as a federal lawsuit, filed by George’s mother back in September, continues to move through the court system. The lawsuit asks Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to enforce the CROWN Act on behalf of her son. She also filed a complaint against Barbers Hill ISD with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), alleging the school district has harassed and mistreated her son over his hair. An investigation into those allegations remains open, according to a spokesperson for the TEA.

In January, Greg Poole, the superintendent of Barbers Hill ISD, defended the district’s position in a full-page ad in the Houston Chronicle, saying the district’s policy is legal and teaches students to conform as a sacrifice benefiting everyone.

– Reporting by Houston Public Media

Be the first to comment

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.