(KPRC/CNN) - A school district in Mont Belvieu, Texas, suspended a teenager and told him he could not walk at graduation this year unless he cuts his dreadlocks.
Sandy Arnold said her son Deandre is set to graduate from Barbers Hill High School in just a few months. After school officials told him to cut his hair, the teen refused to comply, citing his Trinidadian culture.
Arnold said a lot of men from Trinidad wear dreadlocks, and her son has embraced it. She said Deandre has worn the hairstyle for years and always follows the school's dress code -- making sure to keep his hair off his shoulders, above his earlobes and out of his eyes.
After Christmas break, the family said the district changed its policy.
"They say that even though my hair is up, if it was down, it would be out of dress code -- not that I’m out of dress code. But if I was to take it down, I would be out of dress code. That doesn’t make any sense,” Deandre said.
The teenager said he never takes his hair down at school, but he isn’t allowed back until his dreadlocks are cut.
“This is his belief. This is a part of who he is. This is his culture... so absolutely not. I’m not going to cut his hair,” his mother said.
The family and several activists expressed their discontent with the revised dress code policy at a Barbers Hill ISD school board meeting Monday night.
“Let’s stop with the dress code. This is not about dress code. This is about policing black boys,” one activist said.
Deandre’s father, David Arnold, told the board the continuous punishment of his son is a form of bullying.
“I won’t stand for anybody bullying my child. He has rights. All he wants to do is graduate,” he said.
Superintendent Greg Poole pushed back against criticism linking the policy to race.
"There is no dress code policy that prohibits any cornrow or any other method of wearing of the hair," Poole said. "Our policy limits the length. It's been that way for 30 years."
The district also tweeted a statement, saying: "[Barbers Hill] has received scrutiny regarding our high level of expectations on all things & dress code. Yet our African American students beat the state average on passing STAR by 22% & our overall passing scores are the highest in the state. Sounds like high expectations work!"
BH has received scrutiny regarding our high level of expectations on all things & dress code. Yet our African American students beat the state average on passing STAR by 22% & our overall passing scores are the highest in the state. Sounds like high expectations work!— BarbersHillSUPT (@BarbersHillSoup) January 23, 2020