EAST BERNARD – A mother in East Bernard said she was told she cannot enroll her son into the district’s high school unless he cut his dreadlocks.
“The boys cannot have hair past their ears. I explained to her that my son has locks in his hair, and well, she was like, ‘Well he’s going to have to cut those,’” said Desiree Bullock.
Bullock, who moved to East Bernard in February, said a school guidance counselor at East Bernard High School informed her of the policy.
East Bernard ISD’s student handbook outlines its dress code and hair policy, which also forbids “braided hair or twisted rows/strands.”
Bullock said she eventually reached the superintendent in hopes of getting a religious exception.
“She got back to me and she said, ‘Your religious exemption would not be granted. It could not be granted at this time,’” Bullock said.
Courtney Hudgins, East Bernard ISD’s superintendent, said the school district was aware of the allegations.
“East Bernard ISD has not denied enrollment to the individual involved in this situation, as no enrollment or registration documents have been filed,” Hudgins said.
However, Bullock said she didn’t enroll her son because of the policy.
“It’s not right. My child should be able to keep his locks in his hair,” Bullock said, fearing her son’s rights were violated.
The debate over hair policies in Texas school districts isn’t new.
A federal judge in Aug. 2020 ruled the Barbers Hill Independent School District’s dress code was discriminatory after two Black students were suspended over the length of their dreadlocks. The school district eventually revised its policy.
Magnolia ISD also revised its policy in Dec. 2021 after the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and the law firms of Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C. and Susman Godfrey LLP challenged the policy in October on behalf of six boys and one non-binary student who said the policy was opposite of their values.
Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with ACLU Texas, questioned the constitutionality of East Bernard’s policy. Klosterboer said, following previous lawsuits, school districts across Texas have taken it upon themselves to modify their policies, eliminating hair requirements.
“This particular policy is very problematic, unconstitutional, out of date and needs to be updated,” Klosterboer said.
Shaundra Lewis, a professor at Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law, said the lawsuits establish the precedence of rights being violated, but said they don’t stop school districts from keeping them.
“They can continue to make these policies. The question is, can they enforce the policies?” Lewis asked.
The question of enforcement depends on whether a parent challenges the policy.
“If any parent challenges it on the basis that it interferes with their First Amendment right to freedom of religion or is discriminatory, then it cannot be legally upheld,” Lewis said.
A formal complaint against East Bernard ISD has not been filed.
“East Bernard ISD intends to comply with state law regarding enrollment and attendance if and when an enrollment application is completed,” wrote Hudgins, the district’s superintendent, in a statement to KPRC2.
Desiree Bullock said she will continue to homeschool her son until a solution is found.
Her son, 17-year-old Dyree Williams, who runs track and wants to attend college to become a veterinarian, hopes for a scholarship to get him there. However, he fears that won’t happen if he continues on with homeschooling.
“It’s 10 times harder for colleges to notice me because I’m not in school,” Williams said.
The 17-year-old smiled when asked to describe what his hair meant to him.
“It makes me -- me. Without my hair, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” he added.