(NBC NEWS) – A black teenager in Texas said he had been suspended and told he can’t walk in his high school graduation ceremony unless he cuts his dreadlocks to meet the school district’s dress code.
DeAndre Arnold, a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, about 30 miles east of Houston, told NBC affiliate KPRC of Houston that his hair had been in compliance with school rules until recently, when he faced in-school suspension after he refused to cut it.
DeAndre Arnold, whose father is from Trinidad, said he’s worn dreadlocks for years like a lot of men in his family and always followed the school’s dress code by tying them up.
“I really like that part of Trinidadian culture,” he told the station. “So, I mean I really embrace that.”
His mother, Sandy Arnold, said after Christmas break, three months before graduation, the Barbers Hill Independent School District changed its dress code as it refers to hair. Now the rules stipulate “hair must be clean and well groomed” and not extend on male students, at any time, below the eyebrows, the ear lobes or the top of a T-shirt collar — including when let down.
“They say that even though my hair is up and I follow all of the regulations, that if it was down, it would be out of dress code,” DeAndre Arnold told KPRC. “Not that I’m out of dress code, but if I was to take it down, I would be out of dress code, which doesn’t make any sense. I don’t take it down at school.”
Sandy Arnold said that, as a result of the rule change, her son is not allowed in school and can’t attend graduation until he complies with the dress code. When asked if she would cut his hair, she responded, “Absolutely not.”
“This is his belief,” she said. “This is a part of who he is. This is his culture. This is what we believe.”
Sandy Arnold could not immediately be reached at numbers listed for her.
On Wednesday, Houston Texans wide receiver Deandre Hopkins tweeted his support for the teen, urging him to “never cut” his dreadlocks.
The Barbers Hill Independent School District did not immediately return a request for an interview Wednesday.
In a statement posted on its Twitter account, the district said that it does allow dreadlocks. “However we DO have a community supported hair length policy & have had for decades,” the statement said. “BH is a State leader with high expectations in ALL areas!”
As of the 2017-18 school year, Barbers Hill High School had a student body that is predominantly white, according to data posted online by The Texas Tribune.
The superintendent, Greg Poole, appears to have addressed the issue in a statement posted on the district’s website, saying that it allows “any legally accepted religious or medical exemptions” to its dress code and have allowed such exemptions in the past.
Poole said the district’s board of trustees, “which has included African American representation, takes their role of representing the local community as one of their chief priorities.”
“We will continue to be a child-centered district that seeks to maximize the potential of EVERY child,” he continued. “Local control is sacred to this country, and we will NOT be bullied or intimidated by outside influences.”