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A Black Texas student sues after he was suspended over his hairstyle

Darryl George, a 17-year-old junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, has been suspended for not cutting his hair.
Michael Wyke
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AP
Darryl George, a 17-year-old junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, has been suspended for not cutting his hair.

Updated September 23, 2023 at 2:42 PM ET

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

Now, he and his mother are suing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the state's attorney general for allegedly failing to enforce a state law that prohibits hair discrimination.

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. School officials say George's locs fell below his eyebrows and ear lobes, according to local media reports, which violates the district's dress code for male students.

The lawsuit, filed on Saturday in the Texas Southern District Court, argues that George's suspension violates the state's CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) banning race-based hair discrimination.

George, 17, was suspended just before the Texas law wentinto effect statewide on Sept 1.

"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."

Plaintiffs Darryl and Darresha George are seeking an injunction and a temporary restraining order against Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton to compel them to stop the district from "exposing their students to disciplinary punishment and disciplinary measures due to locs, braid, twists and other protective styles that are alleged to be or that are longer than the District or schools' length requirement."

The filing comes after the school asked 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.
Mohamed Ibrahim / AP
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AP
In Minnesota, the CROWN Act, an acronym meaning "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair," adds 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 refers to laws that ban discrimination on the basis of hair texture or protective hairstyles associated with race.

First introduced in California in 2019, the act, in part, bans discrimination against 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.

NPR's Emma Bowman contributed to this story.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.