A Texas school district is in hot water for what many are calling racial discrimination. The school, citing their dress code policy, is reportedly not only threatening to suspend 18-year-old Deandre Arnold, but also prohibiting him from walking at his graduation in three months — unless he cuts his dreadlocks.
Deandre has attended school in the Barbers Hill independent school district for 10 years. His parents signed an agreement with the school district to allow for an exemption regarding his hair length because of its spiritual and cultural significance. However, recently, and without their knowledge, the agreement was reportedly amended. Although the original school handbook dress code cites that young men are not allowed to wear long hair that goes past their ears, touches their shirt collars, or hangs in their eyes, the amended rule now says Deandre would not be allowed to pull back his hair either.
Months of conflict over this new rule came to a head on Monday, as the Barbers Hill school board held a meeting discussing the fate of Deandre. He is reportedly facing in-house suspension for the remainder of the year and despite his academic efforts, he may be banned from accepting his high school diploma on stage at graduation.
Activists and other members of the community came out to support for Deandre and his family as they addressed the Barbers Hill school board, while many others took to social media calling for action. According to KHOU11, Black Lives Matter activist Ashton Woods said, “The dress code is designed by white people for white people and is damaging to black bodies.”
Gary Monroe, executive director of the United Urban Alumni Association, said, “This is a black and white issue… Deandre [and] his family should not have to go through this, but I expect it from a board that has zero diversity.”
In an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle, Woods echoed the sentiment, saying, “Every trustee on the board is white and has been on the board over 10 years. And they have got to go because if not, they’re going to continue to harm these black and brown children.” The school board not only has limited diversity, but the student body of Barbers Hill independent school district does also — only 3 percent of students are black.
The district maintains that this isn’t about dreadlocks or race. Superintendent Greg Poole told KHOU, “There is no dress code policy that prohibits any cornrow or any other method of wearing of the hair. Our policy limits the length. It’s been that way for 30 years.”
According to the 2020 Barbers Hill independent school district student handbook: “The district’s dress code is established to teach grooming and hygiene, instill discipline, maintain a safe and positive learning environment, prevent disruption, avoid safety hazards, and teach respect for authority.”
However, Woods tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “Both myself and the parents are asking, ‘Why now?’ Deandre has been growing his locs for the last 10 years in the same exact school district, and we don’t understand how his hair can disrupt him nor his peers.”
The school district did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment, but a spokesperson for the district tried to clarify that the dress code violation is about hair length — not dreadlocks — telling The Hill: “Barbers Hill ISD has a long standing dress code, but we absolutely allow dreadlocks. What we do not allow is any action that circumvents or violates the provision regarding hair length. The student in question was NEVER forbidden from attending school.”
At the meeting on Monday, a few speakers agreed with the school district and some pleaded with board members not to make an exception to the rules. But many others, including Woods, are not happy about how the school district is handling the situation. “White people don’t get to determine what is and isn’t racism, and instead of exemplifying allyship, what I saw was a bunch of white people ‘white-peopling’ and messing over an exemplary student ─ which shouldn’t be a qualifier ─ by cutting his hair as a punitive measure for negative reinforcement,” Woods tells Yahoo Lifestyle. He adds: “I will not stop fighting until they stop harassing him because we have a responsibility to defend and protect him.”