Texas judge sets trial date over school's suspension of student for dreadlocks

The teen's family says that the school district is violating the CROWN Act.

January 25, 2024, 4:19 PM

A judge has ordered a trial to take place and determine if a school district can continue penalizing a Black Texas high school student for the length of his dreadlocks which would run afoul of the state's CROWN Act, a law which protects from hair discrimination.

The judge ruled on Wednesday that the trial is set to take place on Feb. 22. which will determine if the Barbers Hill Independent School District (BHISD) violated Texas's CROWN Act by putting Darryl George on academic punishment due to his hair.

Darryl George, 18, has been banned by BHISD from attending regular classes at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu. He has been directed to in-school suspension and an off-site disciplinary program since Aug. 31, 2023, according to his mother Darresha George.

The school claimed that the length of his dreadlocks violated their dress and grooming code. Darryl George's dreadlocks are braided and wrapped up on top of his head.

Darryl George has been facing in-school suspension since Aug. 31 because of his dreadlocks.
George Family Photo

The CROWN Act, which stands for "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair," was passed with a bipartisan vote in the Texas legislature and signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last May.

"… being an American requires conformity with the positive benefit of unity, and being a part of something bigger than yourself," Greg Poole, the superintendent of Barbers Hill ISD, said through a full-page, paid ad in the Houston Chronicle on Jan. 14.

Poole told ABC News in a statement that Barbers Hill dress code was not in violation of the CROWN Act which Texas enacted last September.

"The CROWN Act was meant to allow braids, locs or twists, which the district has always allowed. The law was never intended to allow unlimited student expression," Poole said in a statement.

Candice Matthews, a local activist close to the family, criticized Poole for his stance.

"This is very dangerous and he [BHISD Superintendent Greg Poole] has no business having any type of oversight of children and their educational journey," Matthews told ABC News in part through a statement.

The school district told ABC News in a statement in September they filed the lawsuit through the judicial system of Texas to help them clarify the terms of the CROWN Act and whether the length of hair is a factor in the law.

"Any student dress or grooming policy adopted by a school district, including a student dress or grooming policy for any extracurricular activity, may not discriminate against a hair texture or protective hairstyle commonly or historically associated with race," according to the CROWN Act. "'Protective hairstyle' includes braids, locks and twists.'"

PHOTO: Darryl George (middle) is serving in-school suspension (ISS) because he won't cut his dreadlocks.
Darryl George (middle) is serving in-school suspension (ISS) because he won't cut his dreadlocks. Darresha George, his mother, (right) and Dr. Candice Matthews, the Statewide Vice Chair of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, (left) are fighting the school district to get him out of ISS.
George Family Photo

Darryl George's family filed a federal lawsuit in September against Abbott and the state's Attorney General Ken Paxton for allegedly not enforcing the state's CROWN Act.

The family alleges in the complaint that Darryl George has been subjected to "improper discipline and abrogation of both his Constitutional and state rights," as a result of the governor's and the AG's failure to provide equal protection and due process under the law for the plaintiffs; ensuring school districts and schools refrain from discrimination based on race and sex and from using the CROWN Act of Texas to cause outright race and discrimination, according to a copy of the lawsuit ABC News obtained.

Abbott and Paxton did not respond to ABC News' request for comment at the time of the lawsuit.

"I don't know how to be any more clear to the people, like Superintendent Poole, who believe everyone must conform to their own personal notions of acceptable appearance. Black people cannot control the way our hair grows out of our heads," Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, NJ-12, who introduced a federal version of the CROWN Act to Congress, told ABC News in a statement. "The toll this kind of blatant discrimination takes on Black people is both psychological and economic, as hair discrimination occurs not only at schools, but in workplaces as well."