As a high school junior in Texas, Darryl George should be preparing for his final years of high school and what opportunities lay beyond. Instead, his mother Darresha George tells Rolling Stone, the Texas student is stressed, falling behind in classes, and now stuck in a disciplinary program meant for severe infractions — all because he wouldn’t cut his hair.
“He can’t even think about the future because he’s stuck in the present. He’s stuck in the now. He’s stuck on what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Darresha says. “So he can’t even focus on what he wants to do with his life because [the school] is pulling him down.”
On Oct. 12, Darryl began a 48-day stay in a disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP). According to a letter from the school sent to Darresha, Darryl was removed for “multiple infractions of campus and classroom rules.” But his lawyer, Allie Booker, says Darryl’s punishment is direct retaliation for his ongoing lawsuit against the Barbers Hill Independent School District.
The suit, which was filed in September, accuses George’s school, Barbers Hill High School, of targeting the Black student’s hairstyle with a discriminatory dress and grooming policy. (Representatives for Barbers Hill High School and the Barbers Hill School District did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.) Black hair has long been an avenue for discrimination in the United States, as it is often considered unkempt or distracting by white-dominated organizations and professional environments.
On Aug. 31, George was pulled out of class and told his dreadlocks violated the policy and must be cut. The Barbers Hill High School dress code says male students’ hair cannot “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.” George’s locs extend past his shirt collar, but are kept braided up above his lobes. When he refused to cut his hair, the lawsuit claims he was “unethically hazed” by school staff, kept in In-School Suspension, and prevented from accessing free lunch. George’s attorney Allie Booker argues that the school’s actions are in violation of the CROWN Act, a bill adopted in Texas that prohibits “discrimination based on race-based or protective hairstyles.”
“This is systematic injustice in a different form. And now they’re attacking an education,” Booker tells Rolling Stone. “[Darryl George] is walking on eggshells. He’s going through more than just what a child would ordinarily go through in a situation like this. This is retaliation.”
George’s lawsuit is part of an ongoing battle between public school systems and new legislation meant to prevent hair-based discrimination. Texas is one of 24 states that has passed a version of the CROWN Act, but the suit also accuses state officials of failing to enforce the law adequately. It also notes that no one commented on George’s hair until Aug. 31, one day before Texas’s CROWN Act went into effect. Barbers Hill High School asked a Texas district court to specify whether the CROWN Act includes policies on hair length. In a statement to ABC13, the school district also added that they would refrain from “enhancing’ Darryl’s punishment while the court’s ruling was pending — a statement both Booker and his mother Darresha say the school has walked back by sending Darryl to a disciplinary program.
“He feels like he’s caged in, like he’s in jail,” Darresha tells Rolling Stone. “It’s like he’s locked up. He was falling behind already. And now he’s trying to play catch up and it’s hard to do when you’re already behind.”
George isn’t the first student to protest the grooming policy at Barbers Hill High. In 2020, students and cousins De’Andre Arnold and Kaden Bradford filed lawsuits against the public school district, claiming they were being unfairly targeted by the policy when it was changed in the middle of the year to prohibit hair that went past the ear lobes “when let down.” A district judge ruled that Bradford was extremely likely to prove racial discrimination in court and granted an injunction, allowing the boys to return to class and extracurriculars while the lawsuit continued. George’s lawsuit details the exact same treatment and reasoning from the Barbers Hill School District, and Booker says she is seeking a similar injunction to return George to class. But both Arnold and Bradford also switched school districts, at least temporarily, something George family’s spokesperson and civil rights activist Dr. Candice Matthews says she won’t let happen here.
“[The school’s] strategy is to try to put so much on Darryl, where [he] and his mom would be like, ‘You know what, that’s it. We’re going to another school,” Matthews tells Rolling Stone. But the school has to understand that we’re going to deal with it. They have a support system behind them. They have the legislators behind them. And they’re not going to leave.”
George will be allowed to return to school on Nov. 29. But his mother says that even though the stress and turmoil of the situation has drastically affected her son’s grades and chances of graduating on time, he won’t give in to the school’s demands.
“His locs represent his roots, represent his soul, his ancestors, his legacy, ” Darresha tells Rolling Stone. “It’s his culture. He not only has his locs in his hair, he has his ancestors’ hair weaved into the ends of his hair. So cutting that off is cutting them out of his life. And that’s that’s not fair to ask somebody to do.”