Equity & Diversity

Black Teen Suspended for His Dreadlocks Can Return to School, Judge Rules

By Christina A. Samuels — August 19, 2020 2 min read
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A Texas junior can return to class in the Barbers Hill ISD and participate in extracurricular activities without having to cut his dreadlocks, a judge ruled Aug. 17.

Kaden Bradford is a cousin of De’Andre Arnold, who made national news back in January when he was told he could not participate in graduation ceremonies at Barbers Hill because his hair was longer than his shirt collar. De’Andre, then a senior, ended up transferring to another school district that did not have a hair length policy. Kaden transferred to same district as his cousin, spending part of his sophomore year there.

But Kaden wanted to return to Barbers Hill for his junior year. A student who earned As an Bs and plays trombone in marching band, Kaden was told that if he re-enrolled, he would be placed in an in-school suspension program until he cut his hair. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and pro bono counsel from Akin Gump represented Kaden, arguing that the dress code policy is discriminatory. They asked for the judge to grant an emergency injunction allowing Kaden to return to normal classes while the case proceeds.

In his written opinion granting the injunction, Judge George C. Hanks Jr. said that Kaden is likely to prevail in his lawsuit against the school system. He described “selective enforcement, procedural irregularities, and increasingly restrictive amendments, coupled with the lack of a persuasive justification for the hair-length policy.” For example, the policy change that Kaden and De’Andre ran afoul of—male students aren’t allow to wear their hair in a style meant to skirt the length rule—was unusual because it was made midyear.

De’Andre Arnold’s mother was told she couldn’t comment at a board meeting on the change because she needed to have signed up a month in advance, but written board policy only required a seven-day notice to offer public comment.

And, after De’Andre gave a media interview saying that white teens at the school had long hair and had not faced the same punishment, the high school “issued 91 hair-policy disciplinary referrals in the nine school days after De’Andre’s interview, which was more hair-policy disciplinary referrals than they had issued in each of the three prior full school years,” the judge wrote. That suggests that white students had been allowed to skirt the policy, the judge said.

The NAACP called the decision “momentous.”

“The court’s granting of our request means that [Kaden] no longer has 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,” said Janai Nelson, the Legal Defense Fund’s associate-director counsel.

Photo: Juanell Core of J.Core Photography

Related Stories:

Why Do Schools Hang on To Discriminatory Dress Codes?

Do School Dress Codes Discriminate Against Girls?

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.