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DeAndre Arnold and his cousin Kaden Bradford became household names, and unofficial activists to some, earlier this year when their Mount Belvieu, Texas, school district (about 30 miles outside of Houston) suspended them both for refusing to cut their dreadlocks. The school district, at the time, also threatened to keep Arnold from his senior prom and high school graduation if he didn’t cut his hair.
Their names may be trending again very soon because they plan to continue the fight after the Barbers Hill Independent School District decided it will not be changing the policy that led to their suspension in the first place, according to NPR. In a unanimous vote at a hearing this week, the school board voted to keep the policy in tact.
“Especially in this moment, coming so soon after George Floyd’s death, and the largest protests in our nation’s history, so many different institutions right now are examining systemic racism and implicit bias, and looking within themselves,” Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas who represents Bradford, told NPR. “This was an opportunity for the school board to revise and change its policies so that it could be inclusive and affirming of all students, regardless of sex and race.”
According to an attorney for the school district, the policy has nothing to do with race and and more to do with ensuring a high standard and level of quality within the school district.
Page 55 of Barber Hill ISD’s student handbook states that “male students’ hair will not extend, at any time, below the eyebrows, or below the ear lobes.” The handbook says their hair can’t fall below the top of a t-shirt collar or worn in a style that causes the hair to extend below the eyebrows or below the ear lobes when let down.
“They want the standards without having to meet the standards,” attorney Hans Graff said, according to Houston Public Media. “They want to be treated differently. They’re saying, ‘We want the academic excellence, we want the excellence of Barbers Hill. But we don’t want to comply with what it takes to achieve that.’”
OPINION: Suspension of Barbers Hill ISD student over dreadlocks puts focus on hair discrimination
But Klosterboer told NPR that argument in itself is racist. The school district was essentially saying that “the only way to be excellent is to fit that white majority stereotype,” he explained.
Arnold had been going to school in the district since before his kindergarten year. He’s been wearing dreadlocks for quite some time now but managed to avoid trouble by keeping his hair up throughout his high school journey. The district changed the rules up in 2019, adding the clause that male student’s hair have to meet the requirements even if it is being worn up.
Both Hopkins and his cousin, a rising junior, were removed from the district by their parents and transferred elsewhere so they could keep their dreadlocks.
“Anyone who’s met Kaden and De’Andre, these students, knows how incredibly excellent they are,” Klosterboer told NPR. “They have now sacrificed being away from their friends — being isolated at school — to stand up for their constitutional rights, and to stand up for their heritage, their family and their culture and for what they believe. And that is excellent.”
Another hearing for the case is expected to happen Wednesday, where Bradford’s parents plan to ask the board if their son can return to his original district as the lawsuit, which Klosterboer told NPR could cost taxpayers ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’, moves forward.
“We’d been hoping that the district would change its policies now,” he told NPR, “without waiting for a federal court to tell them, and force them, to do what’s right.”
NPR reported that only three percent of students in the Barber Hills ISD are Black, which is much lower than the 12 percent in other Texas districts.
At the time of this article, Barbers Hill ISD could not be reached for comment.