Case Studies and Best Practices for Overcoming Hair Discrimination in Schools
Advocating for Hair Equality in Schools
We began advocating for hair equality in 2017 by profiling two cases of hair discrimination.
Having previously published a case study on bullying and boys with long hair, parents started contacting us with accounts of their sons being barred from attending school, made to cut their hair, forced into ISS (in school suspension) and more.
Mostly they were looking for help, and we were glad to hear from them.
As we learned about more cases we began to understand this was happening to boys with long hair at schools around the United States and abroad.
With every parent who wrote (in some cases young men themselves), it became increasingly clear we had to document these cases, while sharing the measures and tactics families have taken in their pursuit of hair equality.
What Do We Mean By Hair Equality?
Before we dive in we should explain what we mean by hair equality. We advocate for hair equality in schools, in the workplace and in general, but here we focus on schools.
When we talk about hair equality we are talking about hair length: that everyone should be able to grow their hair however long they choose, or in the case of minors however long their parents allow them to grow it.
As you’ll see in many cases it’s been distinguished as racial discrimination, or gender discrimination, or religious discrimination. Though we support these movements—both as important issues in their own right as well as a means to advance hair equality more broadly—to us it’s simply hair discrimination.
Joshua, TX (USA)
Last Update: February, 2020
In the first of two families profiled in Should These Boys Be Banned From School?, Habib Dwabe and his family were told in 2017 that his hair violated the Joshua Independent School District (JISD) Dress and Grooming Code, and that he must cut his hair before attending school.
His family refused to cut his hair, which Habib was growing with the intent to donate to charity. Arriving at school he was barred from attending regular class and subjected to ISS for several days.
The family began braiding and pinning up Habib’s hair every day, such that his hair was secured above his collar—a painstaking workaround requiring 30-40 bobby pins and 20-30 minutes every school day.
In October 2017 the parents were informed the Campus Improvement Committee (CIC) had voted 12-0 in favor of no changes to the code. Habib would have to continue pinning his hair up every day or be confined to ISS.
The family filed a grievance with the school, and later a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, neither of which have yielded results. They’ve since written to local government, Congress, the Governor of Texas, even the President, while exploring civil litigation and other legal options.
The braiding/pinning went on through the entire 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years. Habib cut 20 inches of his hair in August 2019, which he donated to Children With Hair Loss, thus entering the 2019-2020 school year with his hair meeting the code.
Most recently, however, with his hair growing longer again, the family was told Habib would have to cut his hair.
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.
In a 2017 statement issued by the district, his mother was told not to bring Jabez back to school until his hair met the school guidelines. After an ongoing struggle with the school administration and local community, Jabez and his family were compelled to leave Mont Belvieu in favor of a more accepting and supportive community, where Jabez attends regular school with his long hair.
Mont Belvieu, TX (USA)
Last Update: February, 2020
Another case in Mont Belvieu, Texas, exploded on the internet when senior high school student DeAndre Arnold was banned from walking in his high school graduation unless he cut his locs (dreadlocks).
DeAndre was placed on ISS, unable to attend regular classes with his peers.
Critics contend the Barbers Hill ISD rule is racist and sexist. DeAndre is of Trinidadian descent and shares a connection with his culture via his locs that he has grown since the seventh grade.
In a dramatic development of events, DeAndre was invited onto the Ellen Degeneres Show, where singer Alicia Keys presented him with a college scholarship for $20,000.
His case gaining national attention, DeAndre was invited and attended the Academy Awards with actress Gabrielle Union, N.B.A. champ Dwyane Wade and Matthew A. Cherry, creators of “Hair Love,” an Oscar-nominated short film.
DeAndre has changed schools. His cousin, Kaden Bradford, who attends Barbers Hill High School, was recently suspended for his locs.
- CBS News: Dreadlocks graduation ceremony: Texas teen DeAndre Arnold suspended, told no walking at graduation because of his hair and the dress code
- CNN: If this Texas student doesn't cut his dreadlocks, he won't get to walk at graduation. It's another example of hair discrimination, some say
- NY Times: Student Suspended Over Dreadlocks Is Invited to the Oscars
East TX (USA)Last Update: February, 2020
Parents of a five-year-old boy with long hair in a small town east of Dallas explained the school district had demanded their son cut his hair. Here is his mother’s account:
This school year started in mid-August for us. After three days we received a note in my son’s folder from the principal stating Kieran (my son) was in violation of the hair rule and we had seven days to comply. In those seven days, we spoke with, or attempted to speak with, the superintendent, all seven school board members and the principal. We were told the dress code is not discriminatory.
Although a number of parents in the community have had similar concerns, we appear to be quite outnumbered. A large number of people in our town have voiced that nothing needs to change and we should follow the rules or move.
After seven days we received another note stating that Kieran would be subject to ISS until his hair was in compliance with the rule.
At that point we considered our options: 1) homeschool; 2) pull Kieran from kindergarten altogether (since Texas doesn’t require kids to be in kindergarten until age six); 3) allow him to go to ISS while we fight the rule/punishment; 4) cut his hair.
We included Kieran in the conversation and because he loves school and was really thriving in the environment, he chose to cut his hair, but he did ask that we keep fighting the rule.
Kieran cut his hair so he could be allowed to attend regular classes. No changes have been made to the grooming policy.
Elementary School Dress Code from the district handbook.
Poth, TX (USA)
Last Update: February, 2020
When 11-year-old Maggie Johnson started treatment as a result of a Wegener’s disease diagnosis, her older brother immediately started growing out his hair. Wegener’s disease is an autoimmune disease often requiring rounds of chemotherapy and dialysis treatments causing hair loss.
Her brother, Newt Johnson, was a high school student attending the Poth Independent School District in Texas until he recently withdrew himself. Newt made the decision to disenroll after district officials enforced a rule that male students are not permitted to have hair “beyond the ear opening on the sides nor beyond the top of a dress shirt collar in the back.”
Lipan, TX (USA)
Last Update: February, 2020
Cole Taylor was a guest on The Longhairs podcast in August, 2018. At that time he was entering his junior year in high school with a mission to grow his hair long to donate in memory of a family friend who had lost his life to cancer.
Cole’s high school had a strict personal grooming policy prohibiting boys’ hair from extending below the collar—far too short for donating to charity. Approaching the fall term, with the support of his parents he approached the school with a request for permission to grow his hair long so he could donate at The Great Cut.
The school made an exception to the rule and allowed Cole to continue growing his hair, and he went through with his commitment to donate.
Although it was a win, the policy had not actually changed. As Cole entered his senior year (2019-2020) he kept growing his hair, this time approaching the school administration with a permanent policy revision.
With a collaborative approach, Cole compared the policy to those of other schools, debated any hindrance on the day-to-day life of a student, and demonstrated the rule was antiquated and unnecessary.
As a result of his efforts, we are happy to report the school administration did in fact change it’s policy, which now reads:
Cole recapped his experience donating his hair:
As for The Great Cut, I sent my own, my sister’s and a number of other people’s hair from a local salon. It was awesome, scary yes, but it was worth it to do something like that for kids who deserve the world. I still consider myself blessed to have been part of that event.
His case proves to be an important one. Not only was it a win for hair equality, but it illustrates one path by which others may advance hair equality.
Listen to Cole Taylor on The Longhairs Podcast, Episode 48: A Win For Students With Long Hair.
London (United Kingdom)
Last Update: September, 2018
12-year-old Chikayzea Flanders faced threats of suspension from his all-boys school in London because of his hair. Chikayzea and his mother are proud Rastafarians who believe that Chikayzea should have the right to wear his locs in celebration of their religion.
With help from supporters, Chikayzea’s mother took the Fulham Boys School to court with claims of religious discrimination. The school overturned their decision permitting Chikayzea to return to school with his locs under certain conditions, such as his locs do not touch his collar.
Duncan, B.C. (Canada)
Last Update: October, 2018
We learned of the following case from a parent in British Columbia. Here is her account:
We were told by Queen Margaret’s School, a private school in Duncan B.C. (Canada), that our son, Max, (10 at the time), had been accepted into the school, but that he would not be able to start until he “cut his hair like a boy.” When I asked them to define, “like a boy,” they responded, “short and above the collar.”
I explained that Max prefers to wear his hair long and, as he is a boy, his hair is already a boy’s style. I also pointed out that this “dress code” was sexist, because girls were allowed to have any length they wanted, and on top of that cutting Max’s hair would be quite traumatic for him. Still the school insisted that, as a private school, they could have their own rules.
When I asked to see this code, it did not exist in writing in their handbook, yet they insisted. My son refused, and rightly so, saying that he had the right to have autonomy over his own body and the right as a boy to have long hair if he wished. The school responded by refusing to accept our deposit so that we could not finalize our application, excluding him from the school camping trip. It was very much where initial friendships were formed, and Max definitely felt that exclusion in a negative way.
After doing some research, however, we found that personal characteristics and gender expression, including appearance and hair length, are protected by the BC Human Rights Code. Schools therefore cannot discriminate based on hair length, cannot force cut a child’s hair, and certainly cannot ignore the BC Human Rights Code, whether private or public.
I went back to the school and said:
1) This is an important LGTBQ issue that boys should have the right to self-determine their identity expression
2) The BC Human Rights Code specifically says that no group can discriminate against an individual based on gender or gender expression, and that this code details hair as a form of gender expression. I provided this link: Human Rights in British Columbia - Discrimination based on gender identity or expression fact sheet
3) Our son will agree to conform to rules for long hair, which state in their rule book that hair must be pulled off the face with a headband or in a ponytail (in practice we saw many girls wearing their hair down without any form of control, and pictures on their website show girls with long, straight hair. So by tidy, I guess they mean “straight,” which brings up a whole set of other uncomfortable questions about what happens if said person is ethnic or has curly hair, which my son does.)
When we brought this to the head of the school’s attention, the school considered and made the decision to change their policy. An all-school notice was sent out saying that, going forward, boys could have long hair and girls could have short hair, but anyone with long hair had to have it neatly brushed or in a ponytail.
We appreciated the school’s willingness to reconsider, even if it was a bit belated, and although the discussions were painful and being the first long-haired boy at the school was a bit of a challenge, our son felt good about making a positive change for other kids, male or female, who come after him.
In the end, we felt our voices were heard and listened to (eventually), and we hope that no other boys who choose to wear their hair long will have to endure exclusion or force cutting.
Also, we felt our son learned that sometimes authority is wrong and it’s important to take a stand and fight for something you believe in, and that sometimes you have to “be the change” you want to see in the world. It’s also inspiring to see others around you, including the school, recognize that the time has come to make a change, and participate in actively making it happen.
London (United Kingdom)
Last Update: January, 2020
A London native by the name Farouk James, 8, has gained considerable attention advocating for gender, race, and hair equality via social media.
Farouk has been refused access to an esteemed Christian school in his area due to the length of his hair. His mother, Bonnie, has been vocal in her opposition to rules that prevent boys from growing their natural hair long.
“Forcing children to cut their hair is totally against human rights and I will not give up trying to persuade governments to put legislation in place to protect children from these outdated, punishing rules.”
Springfield, MO (USA)
Last Update: April, 2020
In another example of leadership at the student level, high school sophomore Connor Marler wanted to grow his hair long during the 2017-18 academic year, however the Catholic school he attended maintained a grooming policy prohibiting long hair on male students.
In response to the policy, Connor wrote a 10-page proposal to the school district. In his Five Theses, Connor identifies five points of contention with the male grooming policy, giving reason to change it but also offering policy revisions.
Over the next two academic years he was granted meetings with the Assistant Principal, the Principal, and even the Director of Catholic schools in the area. While each person he met with was impressed by Connor and his proposal, none have been willing to change the policy.
What Does It Mean for Hair Equality?
What we know is hair discrimination is happening, and boys with long hair and their families are being made to choose between attending school or cutting their hair.
Whether his long hair represents his racial, cultural or ethnic heritage, his religious beliefs, whether he wishes to donate his hair, or it’s simply an expression of his identity...no child should have to make that choice.
Measures and Tactics in Pursuit of Hair Equality
Dialogue, Diplomacy and Negotiation
In Lipon, TX, through diplomacy and a collaborative approach with his school’s administration, Cole Taylor was able to get his school’s grooming policy changed.
Office of Civil Rights
Another option some parents have exercised is to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education focused on enforcing civil rights laws prohibiting schools from engaging in discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, or membership in patriotic youth organizations.
The CROWN Act
Laws have been passed in California, New York and New Jersey to prohibit hair discrimination. Known as the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair), these policies are designed to protect people in workplaces and schools from racial discrimination based on their natural hair and style choices, such as afros, braids, cornrows and locs.
While other states are considering similar laws, these policies do not extend to address long hair in general.
UPDATE: Virginia and Colorado became the fourth and fifth states to enact the CROWN Act, followed by Washington State. The city of Cincinnati, Ohio and Montgomery County, Maryland have also passed The CROWN Act in those local and county municipalities.
To date, more than 20 states are considering the CROWN Act and have either pre-filed, filed or formally stated an intent to introduce their own anti-hair discrimination bills. More info: www.thecrownact.com
Human Rights Code (Canada)
In B.C., Canada, a family was able to invoke the B.C. Human Rights Code, prompting their school to change it’s grooming policy.
In their open Statement of Support for DeAndre Arnold, Zeph Capo and Jeff Freitas, the respective Presidents of the Texas and California Federation of Teachers, urges the Barbers Hill ISD and all Texas School Officials to adopt non-discriminatory hair policies.
You can reach out to your local American Federation of Teachers chapter to express your views on hair equality in schools.
The Chikayzea Flanders family filed suit against the Fulham Boys School in London on the grounds of religious discrimination, resulting in an agreement in which the school was ordered to pay the family a settlement covering litigation costs.
Our Best Advice
Finally, we’ll share a few suggestions we have offered parents and students pursuing hair equality in the past.
- Procure a copy of the grooming code or policy in question.
- Examine the entire code or handbook closely.
- Is the code being enforced uniformly?
- Are there outdated policies, or policies that aren't being enforced?
- Perhaps the entire handbook could use a complete revision. We can take this as an opportunity to update the whole thing.
- What is the process for making changes to the policy? If there is no established process, surely we can adopt one where all the stakeholders can be involved.
- Present an alternative to the current policy, accompanied with factual information and a logical, compelling argument for the proposed changes.
- Offer concessions that would make a change more palpable.
Depending on the student’s age and appropriateness for the situation, cases like these can be far more powerful coming directly from the student.
In the case of DeAndre, his situation went viral and millions of people knew about his case overnight. He had the good fortune of gaining national attention and being presented with a scholarship, but even so he still had to change schools while enduring a major disruption in his life.
While each boy isn’t going to end up on Ellen or get invited to the Oscars, the first step in building a broad base of popular support is by documenting these cases, showing what is happening, and putting a face to each boy who is going through it.
Cases of Hair Discrimination Published Here
A fraction of hair discrimination cases are represented here, and for each case we know about, there are many more. We’ll build on these stories, because the more we can show what is happening, the more we can affect change.
If you are facing or become aware of an instance of hair discrimination we would like to publish your story here.
As the discussion unfolds we’ll continue to advocate, and someday boys won’t have to choose between going to school and cutting their hair.
Who Are You Guys and Why Do You Care About Hair Equality?
In 2019 we broke the Guinness World Records title for the most hair donated to charity in 24 hours at The Great Cut, a charity hair-cutting event where we donated over 339 pounds of hair and $50,000 to Children With Hair Loss.
Since then we’ve circled back to this topic, one of our core values...and here we are. Hope you enjoyed the read, please comment below and share if you support hair equality.