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A Black Texas Student’s Suspension Over His Hair Renews Focus on the Crown Act

A Black high school student in Texas has been suspended for more than two weeks for wearing a natural hairstyle that school officials say violated the district’s dress code.

Darryl George, a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, (a town roughly 40 minutes outside of Houston) has faced numerous in-school suspensions since Aug. 31 due to his locs — which school officials say violates the district’s dress code, according to local media reports.

George, 17, was suspended just before Texas’ CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair), banning race-based hair discrimination, went into effect statewide.

“He has to sit on a stool for eight hours in a cubicle,” Darryl’s mother, Darresha George, told The Associated Press. “That’s very uncomfortable. Every day he’d come home, he’d say his back hurts because he has to sit on a stool.”

School officials say George’s locs fell below his eyebrows and ear lobes, which violated the district’s dress code, and the district is asking a court to clarify whether the new law “prohibits grooming policies addressing the length of a male student’s hair.”

The student’s suspension continues to generate questions about the legality of punishing students for their hair and the extent of the newly passed law’s protections.

What is the CROWN Act?

The CROWN Act, an acronym meaning “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” would add hairstyle and texture to a provision in the Minnesota Human Rights Act that prohibits racial discrimination in housing, employment and education, among other areas. Here, Rep. Esther Agbaje, D-Minneapolis, speaks to reporters outside of the House chamber in St. Paul on Feb. 28, 2022.

The CROWN Act is a law that bans discrimination on the basis of hair texture or protective hairstyles associated with race.

First introduced in California in 2019, the act, in part, works to criminalize the targeting of hairstyles that are often associated with race — which can prevent employers, educators and others from imposing strict rules related to one’s physical appearance.

The inaugural CROWN Act expanded the definition when it comes to race in California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the state’s Education Code — aiming for protection across workplaces in addition to K-12 public and charter schools, according to the official website for the campaign to pass the legislation.

“Hair discrimination is rooted in systemic racism, and its purpose is to preserve white spaces,” the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund said.

“Policies that prohibit natural hairstyles, like afros, braids, bantu knots, and locs, have been used to justify the removal of Black children from classrooms, and Black adults from their employment,” the organization added.

How many states have passed the CROWN Act?

So far, 24 states along with the U.S. Virgin Islands have signed the CROWN Act into law: Alaska; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; Illinois; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Nebraska; Nevada; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; Oregon; Tennessee; Texas; Virginia; and Washington.

Texas was the 24th state to implement a version of the law, which went into effect on Sept. 1.

The legislation has been proposed in 20 additional states and Washington, D.C.

Is there any movement federally on this?

In March 2022, the House passed the CROWN Act in a vote of 235-189.

But later that year, Senate Republicans blocked the bill as the legislation failed to get enough support from Republicans to override a filibuster from Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul.

“When the CROWN Act was first introduced during the 116th Congress [in 2020], it passed the House by voice vote without objection,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., who sponsored the legislation in the House, said in a December 2022 news release on the issue.

“Our fight is far from over. … I am disappointed, but not defeated. I remain steadfast in my commitment to protecting all Americans’ right to exist as their authentic selves,” she added.

Source : NPR