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Texas judge rules school district can discipline Black teen over hairstyle

(Reuters) - A Texas judge ruled on Thursday that a Houston-area school district did not violate a newly enacted state law when it punished a Black student for refusing to change his hairstyle, local media reported.

The case involved Darryl George, who wears his dreadlocks braided on top of his head, and Barbers Hill Independent School District, which had claimed the 18-year-old's hairstyle violated its dress code, Houston Public Media reported. It suspended him in August and sent him to an off-site disciplinary program for the entire school year.

During the first day of the trial, Chambers County Judge Chap Cain III ruled that Barbers Hill did not violate the state's Crown Act, which prohibits race-based discrimination on hair, the news outlet reported.

“There's been a lot of emotions on me - anger, sadness,” George said as he entered the courthouse on Thursday, according to Houston Public Media. "It feels very lonely when you're the only one stuck in a room for a whole semester, a whole year."

Support has grown across the United States recently for legislation banning race-based discrimination on hair, specifically textures or styles associated with a particular race or national origin. Texas is one of 24 states to have passed a law banning such discrimination, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Texas passed its law in May 2023.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas wrote on social media on Thursday that the Barbers Hill school district "has repeatedly disrupted the education of Black students in the district because of their discriminatory dress codes."

The ACLU pointed to a report it published earlier this month that it says showed that 80% of Texas schools "have vague hair policies that may be used to disproportionately punish Black students."

In its lawsuit filed in September, the school district asked the court to weigh in on the issue. Barbers Hill claimed that George's hair violated its dress code, which says that a male student’s hair cannot be "below the top of a t-shirt collar, below the eyebrows, or below the ear lobes when let down."

Greg Poole, the superintendent of Barbers Hill ISD, recently took out a full-page ad in the Houston Chronicle defending the position, saying the policy is legal and teaches students to conform as a sacrifice benefiting everyone, local television reported.

Lawyers for George and the school district were not immediately available for comment. After the court proceeding, an attorney for the family said she planned to file an appeal and request a federal injunction against the school district, Houston Public Media reported.

In September, the family filed a separate lawsuit against the school district in federal court, claiming its dress code policy violates George's civil rights.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago and Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Editing by Matthew Lewis)