Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) defended a Black high school student at a virtual preliminary injunction hearing to determine whether the Barbers Hill Independent School District (BHISD), located in Mont Belvieu near Houston, Texas, will be enjoined from excluding him from class in the 2020-21 school year because he refuses to cut his natural locs.
“LDF has asked the court to enjoin enforcement of BHISD’s discriminatory dress and grooming policy given our client’s likelihood of success on his race discrimination, gender discrimination, and freedom of expression claims,” said Janai Nelson, LDF’s Associate Director-Counsel. “Without court intervention, the District intends to confine our client to in-school suspension upon the start of the 2020-21 school year unless he cuts his hair. Black hair discrimination is as invidious and pernicious as any other regulation of Black identity and LDF is committed to challenging it fiercely.”
“Black students should not be forced to forgo equal educational opportunities because they wear their hair in a way that displays pride in their racial heritage,” said LDF Senior Counsel Michaele Turnage Young. “BHISD’s dress and grooming policy assumes a definition of ‘excellence’ and ‘professionalism’ that is too narrow to embrace the broad range of ways excellence and professionalism can manifest in our multi-racial society.”
“LDF is proud to stand with our clients in defending every student’s right to a high-quality education, regardless of how they wear their hair,” said Patricia Okonta, LDF’s Skadden Fellow. “No one should have to suppress their identity to receive an education.”
The preliminary injunction hearing comes two days after BHISD’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted not to change their grooming policy at final hearings on grievances each of our clients filed with the school district in January 2020.
“Closing the schoolhouse door to hardworking students simply because they wear uncut locs is racial discrimination, plain and simple,” said Mahogane Reed, LDF’s John Payton Appellate and Supreme Court Advocacy Fellow. “We cannot allow educators – who are charged with nurturing our students – to send our children the message that there is something about the way their hair naturally grows that is unacceptable.”
In May 2020, Everett De’Andre Arnold, Sandy Arnold, and Cindy Bradford (on behalf of her son K.B.) filed a lawsuit against the BHISD, its Board of Trustees, and additional individual defendants challenging its discriminatory hair policy. Arnold and Bradford were informed by BHISD earlier this year that they must either cut their natural locs or no longer participate in regular classes and school activities, including Arnold’s graduation ceremony. The plaintiffs are represented by LDF and pro bono co-counsel Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.
* Terminology note: LDF uses the term “loc(s)” or “lock(s)” to refer to what some refer to as “dreadlock(s).” The latter term derives from a description of Black hair locs as “dreadful” and “was used by English slave traders to refer to Africans’ hair, which had probably loc’d naturally on its own during the Middle Passage.” See Brown White, S., Releasing the Pursuit of Bouncin’ and Behavin’ Hair: Natural Hair as an Afrocentric Feminist Aesthetic for Beauty, 1 Int’l J. Media & Cultural Pol. 295, 965 n.3 (2005).
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization. LDF has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.