LOCALIZE IT: How school dress codes intersect with new laws against race-based hair discrimination

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@veesanders 2023

EDITORS/NEWS DIRECTORS:

(AP) A judge last week ruled that a Black high school student’s months long punishment by his Texas school district for refusing to change his hairstyle does not violate a new state law prohibiting race-based hair discrimination. The decision is refueling debates over district and school dress code policies and the CROWN Act.

Darryl George, 18, hasn’t been in his regular classes at his Houston-area high school since August. His school district says he’s violating its policy limiting the length of boys’ hair. George wears his hair in tied and twisted locs on top of his head, and his attorney says his hairstyle should be protected by the CROWN Act.

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.

Versions of the CROWN Act have been enacted in 24 states, including Texas, New York, Oregon and Illinois. California was the first state to pass the bill after it was introduced by Democratic state Sen. Holly Mitchell and signed into law in 2019. The inaugural CROWN Act expanded the definition of race in the Fair Employment and Housing Act and state education code to ensure protection against hair discrimination in workplaces and K-12 public and charter schools.

Federal legislation was first introduced by Democratic Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey in 2021. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 235-189 vote in March 2022 but failed in the Senate.

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READ AP’S STORIES

Texas school legally punished Black student over hairstyle, judge says

Schools say dress codes promote discipline. But many Black students see traces of racism

Texas high school Black student suspended over hair likely won’t return to his class anytime soon

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FIND YOUR STATE: CROWN ACT LEGISLATION

The following states have passed a version of the CROWN Act against hair-based racial discrimination:

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

WASHINGTON

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ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND

Schools in the U.S. often have dress codes that include vague language, such as prohibiting “unkept” or “ungroomed” styles, with enforcement left up to the judgment of individual administrators. Punishments for dress code violations, which often affect students of color disproportionately, can include suspensions and expulsions that take them away from the classroom with profound effects for learning.

Braids and other protective hairstyles carry cultural significance for many Black Americans specifically. Hair textures amongst African American people vary greatly and can require chemicals, time and equipment to style or make straight. But many Black Americans have felt pressure to straighten curly hair or keep it cut short in an effort to conform to Eurocentric styles and standards of professionalism.

Hair discrimination not only affects Black Americans but restricted hairstyles impact Native Americans whose hair has religious significance, people who identify as LGBTQ+ who often use hair for gender expression and other marginalized communities.

report by the Government Accountability Office in 2022 called on the U.S. Department of Education to provide resources to help schools design more equitable dress codes. It found that more than four in five predominantly Black schools and nearly two-thirds of predominantly Hispanic schools enforce a strict dress code, compared to about one-third of predominantly white schools. It also found schools that enforce strict dress codes are associated with statistically significant higher rates of discipline that removes students from the classroom.

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TAKE YOUR REPORTING FURTHER

At your local school districts, are there hair regulations in their dress and grooming codes? In states that have also adopted a version of the CROWN Act, are schools interpreting it as protecting hairstyles that previously incurred violations?

Here are some questions you can ask district officials. Some states do collect data on school discipline but the district level is a good place to start. What kind of disciplinary measures are taken in response to student violations? How many students each year serve detention, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension or are sent to an alternative disciplinary program for violating dress codes or grooming policies? And for how long? Are there disparities in the race and gender of students disciplined for dress code violations?

What are the conditions students are having to learn in during punishment and how do they differ from regular classroom instruction? What steps are taken to ensure students remain on track to graduate?

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BC-US–Hair Discrimination-Education-Localize It

Feb 26, 2024 11:52 AM – 805 words

By CHEYANNE MUMPHREY AP Education Writer

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