Texas school legally punished Black student over hairstyle, judge says

Supporters of Darryl George hold signs on Wednesday during a protest outside of the home of Barbers Hill Independent School District superintendent Greg Poole in Baytown, Texas. (AP Photo/Juan Lozano)

FILE - Darryl George, a 17-year-old junior, before walking across the street to go into Barbers Hill High School after serving a 5-day in-school suspension for not cutting his hair, Sept. 18, 2023, in Mont Belvieu, Texas. A trial is set to be held Thursday, Feb. 21, 2024, to determine if George can continue being punished by his district for refusing to change his hairstyle, which he and his family say is protected by a new state law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke, File)

ANAHUAC, Texas — A Black high school student’s monthslong punishment by his Texas school district for refusing to change his hairstyle does not violate a new state law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination, a judge ruled on Thursday.

Darryl George, 18, has not been in his regular Houston-area high school classes since Aug. 31 because the district, Barbers Hill, says the length of his hair violates its dress code.


The district filed a lawsuit arguing George’s long hair, which he wears in tied and twisted locs on top of his head, violates its policy because it would fall below his shirt collar, eyebrows or earlobes when let down. The district has said other students with locs comply with the length policy.

After about three hours of testimony in Anahuac, state District Judge Chap Cain III ruled in favor of the school district, saying its policy is not discriminatory because the CROWN Act does not say that exemptions for long hair can be made for hairstyles that are protected by the law, including locs. And he said courts must not attempt to rewrite legislation.

“Judges should not legislate from the bench and I am not about to start today,” Cain said.

The CROWN Act, which took effect in September, prohibits race-based hair discrimination and bars employers and schools from penalizing people because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including Afros, braids, locs or twists.

The judge encouraged George to ask the state Legislature or the school board to address the issue.

George’s family has also filed a formal complaint with the Texas Education Agency and a federal civil rights lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with the school district, alleging they failed to enforce the CROWN Act. The lawsuit is before a federal judge in Galveston.

Allie Booker, George’s attorney, said she planned to seek an injunction in the federal lawsuit to stop George’s punishment and that she also would appeal Thursday’s decision.

For most of the school year, George, a junior, has either served in-school suspension at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu or spent time at an off-site disciplinary program.

“The Texas legal system has validated our position that the district’s dress code does not violate the CROWN Act and that the CROWN Act does not give students unlimited self-expression,” Barbers Hill Superintendent Greg Poole said in a statement.

The district did not present any witnesses, instead only submitting evidence that included an affidavit from the district’s superintendent defending the dress code policy. Its attorneys argued that the dress code policy does not violate the CROWN Act because the law does not mention or cover hair length.

Before the trial, George and his mother, Darresha George, said they were optimistic.

Wearing locs is “how I feel closer to my people. It’s how I feel closer to my ancestors,” George said.

After the ruling, George and his mother cried and declined to speak with reporters.

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