Two Texas teens who were targeted by a school district for refusing to cut their locs have gained the support of the U.S. Department of Justice in their ongoing legal battle.
At the start of 2019-2020 school year, De’Andre Arnold and Kaden Bradford were both students in the Barbers Hill Independent School District when they were told the length of their hair did not adhere to the district’s hair policy. As a result, the teens were told to cut their hair in order to continue attending classes at Barbers Hill High School. Both, backed by the support of their mothers, refused to do so and were punished with in-school suspensions.
The district’s hair length policy states:
“Male students’ hair will not extend, at any time, below the eyebrows, or below the ear lobes. Male students’ hair must not extend below the top of a t-shirt collar or be gathered or worn in a style that would allow the hair to extend below the top of a t-shirt collar, below the eyebrows, or below the ear lobes when let down.”
Kaden’s mother, Cindy, says her son has worn his hair in locs since sixth grade. She said the prior year his hair length became a concern at school but he was told that if he could keep his hair pulled back he would not be in violation of the policy.
De’Andre, who is Kaden’s cousin, similarly wore his hair styled upwards, but it didn’t make him exempt from the district’s efforts to control how he wore his hair. “They said De’Andre’s hair can’t touch the collar, ears or in the face. It never really did. He’s always had it up,” his mother, Sandy, told local Houston station KRIV.
But by December 2019 the policy had been updated, restricting hair length when it was not styled upwards. While De’Andre was able to complete his coursework, he was told he would not be allowed to participate in the May graduation ceremony due to his unwillingness to cut his hair. The cousins transferred to a nearby district to finish the school year.
Both mothers sued the district “alleging that the District’s hair length restrictions, which apply solely to male students, constitute sex discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”
The district responded by filing a motion to have the case dismissed on the premise that the mothers’ claims of sex and race discrimination were unfounded. The DOJ disagrees. In a statement of interest filed July 23, the DOJ states, “Had De’Andre and K.B. been female, their hair would not have run afoul of the District’s hair length policy. But because they are male, the District disciplined them for noncompliance.”
They further added that the school district is misguided in assuming that neither Sandy or Cindy has the “standing to assert a Title IX retaliation claim.” The DOJ hopes the district’s effort to have the case dismissed denied. If it is, this would mark the second small victory in De’Andre and Kaden’s battle. Last summer a Texas federal judge blocked Barbers Hill High School from enforcing the controversial hair policy, leading Kaden, who is now a senior, to transfer back to Barbers Hill.
In August of last year, Janai Nelson, NAACP Legal Defense Fund associate director-counsel, shares a similar sentiment. “[Bradford does not have to] endure an unjust and educationally-damaging in-school suspension simply for having uncut locs, which are an immutable part of his Black identity and cultural heritage.”