(CBSDFW.COM/CNN) — A Texas teenager is now getting support from celebrities after he was told he had to cut his dreadlocks or else he would not be able to walk the stage at graduation.
Singer Alicia Keys presented DeAndre Arnold, a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas (about 32 miles east of Houston), 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, hasn’t been to school for several days. Just before the start of winter break in December, the Barbers Hill Independent School District 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.”
Superintendent Greg Pool told CNN 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 was got support from athletes such as DeAndre Hopkins of the Houston Texans. Hopkins tweeted last week, “Never cut your locks Deandre Arnold.”
Never cut your locks Deandre Arnold.
— Deandre Hopkins (@DeAndreHopkins) January 22, 2020
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.
(The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report. All rights reserved.)