Texas high schoolers suspended for wearing dreadlocks

Two Texas high school students face suspension and other punishment for wearing their hair in dreadlocks. School officials contend that wearing dreadlocks beyond a certain length violates district dress policy for male hair and expect the students to cut their hair before resuming regular school activities. 

Key Players

DeAndre Arnold is a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, a suburb of Houston. He was placed on in-school suspension for his hair in mid-January 2020. The school threatened to block DeAndre from walking at graduation unless he complies with the policy, according to ABC News. 

Kaden Bradford, a sophomore at Barbers Hill, is Arnold’s cousin. He also wears long dreadlocks, typically tied in a headband or a bun like Arnold. According to a comment his mother made to NBC News, Bradford was issued an at-home suspension roughly one week after Arnold received his punishment. 

Further Details

The Barbers Hill Independent School District dress code mandates that male students’ hair not be lower than the eyebrows or earlobes when let down, according to The Hill. School officials said the teens’ hairstyles violated policy, prompting their respective suspensions. 

DeAndre Arnold and his mother explained that long dreadlocks are an important expression of their Trinidadian cultural heritage, according to NBC News. Family members also said that Arnold and his cousin have worn their hair in this style for years and had never before faced disciplinary action. 

Both the Arnold and Bradford families are now considering legal action. 

The teens have become the lastest parties to an already prominent national debate surrounding hair discrimination, which made national news last year after a New Jersey high school wrestler was forced to cut off his dreadlocks before competing in a match, as NBC News reported. A growing number of instances of hair discrimination, especially against African Americans and people with dreadlocks, have inspired state legislation to be passed in California, New York, and New Jersey. 


School district issues statement, stands by suspension 

Despite increasing pressure to change its policy, the Barbers Hill school district tweeted on Jan. 19, “BH DOES allow dreadlocks. However we DO have a community supported hair length policy & have had for decades.” Since then, the district has issued no further comment about the suspensions or any plans to change the hair policy. 

Arnold and Bradford receive national support from politicians and celebrities 

Arnold and Bradford received an outpouring of social media support from celebrities for their right to free cultural expression. Arnold appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to discuss the incident and was presented with a college scholarship for $20,000, ABC News reports. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) expressed his support for the students and reemphasized the necessity of the CROWN Act he unveiled last December, aimed at ending “hair-based discrimination” especially for “black and brown people.” 

Arnold attends Oscars

Accompanied by his mother and the director of the award-winning short film “Hair Love,” which shows an African American family beset by medical upheaval, Arnold walked the red carpet of the 2020 Oscars with his dreadlocks on full display. 

“I’m so grateful. I never expected any of this,” Arnold told Refinery29, a media company focused on young women. “The message of that movie and my message go together so well. I think it’s really amazing how they reached out to me and we can fight this together.”

“Hair Love” director Matthew A. Cherry, who invited both Arnolds to the event, told the New York Post, “It means the world to us to have him here with us. We wanted people to see how good of a kid he is, but also there’s no reason people should be policing our hair.”