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School’s Punishment of Black Student Suspended Over Hairstyle Doesn’t Violate the Law, Judge Rules

A lawyer for Darryl George's family said they plan to appeal the decision

<p>Kirk Sides/Houston Chronicle via AP</p> Darryl George before the Feb. 22 hearing

Kirk Sides/Houston Chronicle via AP

Darryl George before the Feb. 22 hearing

A Texas judge has ruled that a school district's punishment of a Black student over his hairstyle does not violate the state’s CROWN Act.

On Thursday, State District Judge Chap Cain III ruled in favor of the Barbers Hill Independent School District, a blow to Houston-area high school student Darryl George, who sued after he was suspended multiple times over the length of his locs, according to the Associated Press, CNN, and NBC News.

Cain determined that the school’s rules about hair length do not violate the CROWN (“Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”) Act, which is aimed at preventing race-based discrimination based on the texture or protective style of an individual’s hair.

As noted by CNN, the dress code does not prohibit students from wearing locs hairstyles, but states that a “boy’s hair will not extend below the eyebrows, below the ear lobes, or below the top of a t-shirt collar.”

Allie Booker, the George family’s attorney, said the family plans to appeal the decision, which comes amid Black History Month.

Related: California Set to Become First-Ever State to Ban Discrimination of Natural Hairstyles

As they left the court, Candice Matthews, a spokesperson for the family, said the teen was emotional.

“Darryl made this statement, and told me this straight up with tears in his eyes, ‘All because of my hair? I can’t get my education because of hair? I cannot be around other peers and enjoy my junior year, because of my hair?’” Matthews said during a news conference, per CNN.

<p>Kirk Sides/Houston Chronicle via AP</p>

Kirk Sides/Houston Chronicle via AP

In response to the decision, Barbers Hill Independent School District Superintendent Greg Poole said that the judge's ruling "validated" their position that "the CROWN Act does not give students unlimited self-expression."

“High expectations have helped make Barbers Hill ISD a state leader in all things and high standards at school benefit all,” Poole added in comments obtained by PEOPLE.

Matthews did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

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George has been suspended multiple times since Aug. 31 for violating the district’s dress and grooming code by not complying with the policy. His family filed a lawsuit in September 2023, alleging George’s suspension was unlawful under the CROWN Act, which went into effect that same month.

That same month, the Barbers Hill Independent School District filed a declaratory judgment lawsuit asking for a court to clarify whether the CROWN Act prohibits grooming policies surrounding a male student’s hair length.

Related: Girl, 4, Goes Viral with Her Response After Little Boy Tells Her He Doesn't Like Her Natural Hair (Exclusive)

In September's lawsuit against state officials, Booker said George “should be permitted to wear his hair in the manner in which he wears it ... because the so-called neutral grooming policy has no close association with learning or safety and when applied, disproportionately impacts Black males.”

In a statement obtained by PEOPLE after the lawsuit was filed, David Bloom of the Barbers Hill Independent School District, said that the CROWN Act “prohibits a dress or grooming policy that discriminates against ‘protective hairstyles.’”

“The Barbers Hill ISD Dress and Grooming Code permits protective hairstyles,” Bloom said in the statement at the time, but later noted that they “must still comply with the Dress and Grooming Code.”

Related: TV Reporter Akilah Davis Wears Locs on Air After Hiding Natural Hair Under a Wig for Years: 'I Feel Powerful' (Exclusive)

During the Feb. 22 trial, Democratic state Rep. Ron Reynolds, who co-authored the CROWN Act, said hair length was not specifically mentioned in the law but “was inferred with the very nature of the style,” according to the AP.

“Anyone familiar with braids, locs, twists knows it requires a certain amount of length,” Reynolds explained.

Related: Teen Says She Was Sent Home from Job at Chick-fil-A for 'Unnatural' Blonde Hair: 'Racist Undertones'

Ahead of the trial, George told reporters that having to spend so much time outside of school has been "very lonely"

“It just makes me feel angry, very angry … that throughout all these years, throughout all the fighting for the Black History that we’ve done, that we still have to do this again, and again and again,” the teen said, per CNN. “It’s ridiculous.”

Related: Storm Reid Says It 'Feels Dehumanizing' Having Stylists on Set Who 'Don't Understand Black Hair'

But the family does not plan to “lay down” but would rather “continue to fight,” Matthews said, according to NBC News.

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