Ellen DeGeneres and Alicia Keys are lending support to a Texas teenager who was told that he won’t get to walk at graduation if he doesn’t cut his dreadlocks.
The singer presented DeAndre Arnold with a check for $20,000 to go toward his college education when he appeared on “The Ellen Show” Wednesday.”I’m super proud of you for doing what you know is right,” Keys said. “I know the school needs to do the right thing.”
Arnold, 18, is a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, east of Houston, but he hasn’t been to school for several days. Just before the start of winter break in December, the Barbers Hill Independent School District, which Arnold’s high school is a part of, told his family that if he didn’t cut his dreadlocks he would be barred from walking at graduation.
Though the district allows dreadlocks, male students’ hair cannot extend below the eyebrows or ear lobes, and must be kept shorter than the top of a T-shirt collar. Arnold’s dreadlocks reach below his shoulders, though he puts them up in an effort to comply with the dress code, his mother Sandy Arnold told CNN. Throughout high school, it hasn’t been a problem.
The school district said in a statement to CNN that Arnold has not been prohibited from attending school. But his mother said Arnold has not attended because he would face in-school suspension upon his return.
“Please change your mind,” DeGeneres pleaded with the school district at the end of the segment.
Cutting his hair to comply with dress code is not an option, Arnold’s family has said.
Arnold’s father is from Trinidad, and growing dreadlocks is a common part of the culture. But Sandy Arnold said that shouldn’t matter.
“He should get to choose who he identifies himself as, and he shouldn’t be discriminated against,” she said. “You don’t tell girls they can’t have short hair. It’s so much bigger than DeAndre.”
CNN reached out to the school district for comment on Thursday, but did not immediately receive a response.
Superintendent Greg Pool told CNN on January 24 that the situation is just a matter of following the rules.
“People want to call us racist, but we’re following the rules, the law of the land,” he said, arguing that the policy is fully within the realms of the law. “We’re certainly not making this up.”
Arnold isn’t the first student to be given the choice between cutting their hair or being excluded.
A New Jersey high school wrestler was forced to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit his match in 2018. A year later, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law making it illegal to discriminate based on hairstyles associated with race.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a similar bill in 2019, in light of the event. New York City also passed protections on the right of black people to maintain natural hairstyles.
CNN’s Leah Asmelash contributed to this report.