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From school suspension to the Oscars: See the journey of a Houston-area student at the center of the dreadlock controversy

Dreadlock length controversy.
Dreadlock length controversy. (KPRC)

HOUSTON – A former Barbers Hill High School student is making waves at the national level after he refused to cut his long dreadlocks after the school district changed its dress code one semester before he graduates. See his journey so far:

How the dreadlock controversy began

Barbers Hill Independent School District revised its dress code over winter break. Deandre Arnold, a senior who is described as an A and B student, was sent to in-school suspension and told he could not walk at graduation until his dreadlocks were cut short to meet the new dress code. Arnold took a stand and refused to cut his dreads due to his Trinidadian background.

Members of the Black Lives Matter organization along with Arnold’s parents and several activists attended a school board meeting to voice their displeasure with the revised dress code, but the board members chose not to bring the topic up for discussion during the meeting.

Dreadlock length controversy.
Dreadlock length controversy. (KPRC)

The Barbers Hill School District released a written statement:

“We do have a community supported hair length policy & have had for decades. Barbers Hill is a state leader with high expectations in all areas!”

Texans star shows support of Arnold

DeAndre Hopkins supports Barbers Hill High School student in dreadlocks controversy.
DeAndre Hopkins supports Barbers Hill High School student in dreadlocks controversy. (KPRC/ Getty)

After Arnold’s story came to light, Houston Texans star DeAndre Hopkins tweeted his support of Arnold.

Hopkins, who also has dreadlocks, wrote, “Never cut your locks Deandre Arnold."

Mother withdraws Barbers Hill student sent to in-school suspension for refusing to cut his dreadlocks

Arnold’s mother, Sandy Arnold, had later withdrawn her Arnold from Barbers Hill High School.

Texas teen who won't cut dreadlocks gets $20K for college
Texas teen who won't cut dreadlocks gets $20K for college

WATCH: Former Barbers Hill student, who was told he had to cut his dreadlocks, gifted $20,000 from Alicia Keys on Ellen show

Alicia Keys surprised a Texas student with $20,000 for standing up for what is right on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Alicia Keys surprised a Texas student with $20,000 for standing up for what is right on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. (KPRC)

Arnold’s story gained so much attention he was invited to The Ellen DeGeneres Show where he was surprised by Alicia Keys with $20,000 for “standing up for what is right.”

DeGeneres said she believed male students should be able to wear their hair as long as they wanted.

More Barbers Hill students angered by school dress code, forced to cut their hair as well

Controversial school district hair policy
Controversial school district hair policy

Barber Hill High School students and their parents gathered to show support, saying Arnold was not the only one being targeted by the dress code. Other male students said the district’s policy is biased against boys.

Many students said the district didn’t start cracking down on the dress code until after the Christmas break -- for one main reason.

“Once we first got on the news with Deandre (Arnold) then it just started becoming a problem,” said student Brandon Hernandez.

Arnold invited to Oscars by creators of ‘Hair Love’

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Arnold and his mother, Sandy, were both invited to attend the Oscars as guests of director Matthew A. Cherry, whose “Hair Love” is one of the front-runners for the Best Animated Short Oscar, according to CNN.

Cherry and the film’s producers, actress Gabrielle Union and her husband, NBA star Dwyane Wade, shared the news with Arnold and his mother on Twitter.

Dove said he will provide Arnold and his mother a full wardrobe and glam.

Texas organization supports Arnold

The Texas American Federation of Teachers said it is standing with Arnold saying, “We urge Barber Hills ISD to begin immediate steps to change the dress code policy so that it is not discriminatory on any grounds.”

The group then said the district owed Arnold an apology.

President of Texas American Federation of Teachers Zeph Capo released the following written statement:

The undersigned stand in support of DeAndre Arnold’s right to keep his hair in dreadlocks and not be subject to discriminatory dress-code policies, such as the one he faced in Barbers Hill ISD.

Because DeAndre was forced to leave the district for this violation of his rights, we urge Barbers Hill ISD to begin immediate steps to change the dress-code policy so that it is not discriminatory on any grounds—whether racial, religious or gender related—for any student in the future. Additionally, the district owes DeAndre an apology and an invitation to return if he chooses.

The positive side of this story is that people are recognizing this as a Civil Rights issue and demanding justice for DeAndre. This week he was awarded money on the Ellen Degeneres Show to help him attend college and pursue his academic goals. And the makers of the Oscar-nominated short film “Hair Love” have arranged for DeAndre to attend the Academy Awards in Los Angeles. The film depicts a black father attempting to do his daughter’s hair for the first time, so it’s a fitting tribute that the filmmakers are standing in solidarity with DeAndre.

Dress codes should not be so constrictive that they place a district in the role of referee to make judgements about whether an infraction of the code is allowable for religious or other reasons. Dress codes should only serve to ensure that student learning is not disrupted, and we can in no way see how DeAndre’s hair would be a disruption.

To be frank, policies such as the one in Barbers Hill are discriminatory, outdated, don’t serve any purpose, and end up creating a distraction to the learning environment for these reasons. California already has banned such discriminatory policies. We urge all districts in Texas to update their dress codes as well to ensure that students like DeAndre are do not face injustice.


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