A Texas high school policy has banned students from wearing braids or twists in their hair, prompting one teen to raise an issue about going against a representation of his ancestors.
Dyree Williams, 17, wore his hair in braids, twists, and dreadlocks his entire life, which had never become an issue until he moved from Cinncinati, Ohio, to East Bernard, a town 50 miles outside of Houston, back in February. His new school’s dress code policy stated that “braided hair or cornrows will not be allowed,” leading to Williams and his family strongly disagreeing with the policy.
Williams’ mother, Desiree Bullock, told CNN that her son’s hair represents his African lineage while arguing that he should be able to express himself through various hairstyles that are primarily acceptable in the Black community.
“Once you cut that hair off, you cut off your line to your ancestors. You cut off your lineage. You cut off everything,” she said. “And just it’s not an option. We don’t consider them dreadlocks because we don’t dread them. We love them.”
The school’s handbook, which addresses male student’s hair, states that “Boy’s hair may not extend below the eyebrows, below the tops of the ears or below a conventional standup shirt collar, and must not be more than one-inch difference in the length of the hair on the side to the length of the hair on top.”
Though the district established the dress code policy, Bullock said changing Williams’ hairstyle is not an option.
The handbook also states that “This includes but not limited to tall hairstyles, side swept bang styles, and long hair dangling over shaved sides or shaved back of the head. This also includes mullets and mullets in the making. Braided hair or cornrows will not be allowed. No extremes in hairstyles.”
While Bullock was hopeful that the school would give Williams’ a pass after meeting with him, the school’s administration told them to refer to the handbook’s policy regarding certain hairstyles.
She then filed for a religious exemption for Williams’ hair with the district’s superintendent, but she was denied.
“The exemption request you filed has not been granted at this time,” Courtney Hudgins, East Bernard Independent School District’s Superintendent said in an email response to Bullock. “Assuming the children can meet the dress code requirements, as well as all necessary paperwork for enrollment, they are welcome to enroll with our district registrar. Please contact the registrar to make an appointment for enrollment. If you have any specific questions regarding the dress code, please contact the campus principal.”
Bullock responded to Hudgins, asking for clarification about the enrollment process, but she did not receive a reply from the superintendent.
Brian Klosterboer, attorney for ACLU of Texas, told the outlet in a statement that the school’s policy is unconstitutional and discriminates based on gender.
“East Bernard ISD’s hair policy is deeply discriminatory and needs to be changed,” he said. “The policy contains explicit gender discrimination that recent court decisions have found to be unconstitutional and violate Title IX, and it also explicitly bans ‘braided hair or twisted rows/strands,’ which is a proxy for race discrimination and disproportionately harms Black students in the district.”
Since Williams’ cannot transfer to another school district, Bullock said she is currently homeschooling him and his two sisters.
“I feel really sick to my stomach,” she said. “I feel like (the district’s hair policy) needs to change, I feel like it’s horrible and I feel like it’s only toward African American children or people.”
According to the Texas Education Agency, only 6.1 percent of students attending schools within the district are Black.
Williams, who is entering his Junior year of high school, runs track and his mother said it saddens her that he will miss out on opportunities to get noticed by college scouts for scholarships.