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Outcry after black US teenager punished in school for dreadlock length

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Agence France-Presse

A school in Texas has suspended a black teenager for wearing dreadlocks it deemed too long, causing an outcry among activists who said the punishment unfairly targets him due to his race.

DeAndre Arnold, 18, had worn his hair in the same style for years, but his high school, located east of Houston in Mont Belvieu, decided in recent weeks that it violated the dress code.

On Monday, the teenager’s family, which comes from Trinidad and Tobago, was accompanied by anti-racism activists as they appeared before the Barbers Hill school board to protest the rule, which they said unfairly punishes black students.

In addition to in-school suspension, which generally means a student attends daylong detention rather than class, he was also told he would not be able to walk across the stage to receive his diploma, barring him from a time-honored graduation tradition at US high schools.

His mother, Sandy Arnold, told a local TV channel that his hair “is a part of his culture… that’s who he is, how can I put him in a barber chair and say ‘okay DeAndre, in order to graduate I need to cut your hair?'”

The school defended itself against accusations of discrimination.

“There is no dress code policy that prohibits any cornrow or any other method of wearing up the hair. Our policy limits the length. It’s been that way for 30 years,” said Greg Poole, superintendent of the Barbers Hill Independent School District.

The dress code on the school’s website states that “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.”

Ashton Woods, an activists with Black Lives Matter, told local media after the school board meeting that the dress code “is designed by white people for white people, that is damaging to black bodies.”

Barbers Hill ISD, which educates more than 5,300 students, is 70.6 percent white and only 3.1 percent black, according to its website.

In July 2019, California became the first US state to ban discrimination based on a person’s natural hair, in a law that stated that hair was a frequent reason for racial discrimination, particularly for black people.

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