Bill banning 'hairstyle discrimination' in schools passes House

  • Senate Bill 817 would prevent Illinois schools from enforcing dress codes that prohibit hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity or texture, including braids, locks and twists.

    Senate Bill 817 would prevent Illinois schools from enforcing dress codes that prohibit hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity or texture, including braids, locks and twists. Associated Press file photo

 
 
Updated 5/27/2021 4:50 PM

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois House passed a bill Thursday to prevent "hairstyle discrimination" in schools, sending it back to the Illinois Senate.

Senate Bill 817, originally introduced by Sen. Mike Simmons, a Chicago Democrat, prevents Illinois schools from enforcing dress codes that prohibit hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity or texture, including braids, locks and twists.

 

Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who served as the bill's lead sponsor in the House, said the bill aims to address "historical wrongs."

Harris cited instances of Black students who were required to change their natural hairstyles as a result of school policies, or who were prevented from participating in school activities outright until they changed their hair.

"I think it's time to redress those issues, to correct them, and make sure that all our young people when they go to school, anxious to learn…that they're welcome there, they're respected there, and they're all treated equally there," Harris said on the House floor Thursday.

The bill has been dubbed the "Jett Hawkins Law," named for the young boy who brought the issue to Simmons' attention with his mother earlier this session. Hawkins was sent home from school after his hair was deemed in violation of school dress code.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Hawkins' mother, Ida Nelson, said during a committee hearing on Tuesday that the bill addresses historic inequities in school discrimination, adding that restrictive hair policies disproportionately target Black children and negatively affect self-image and mental health for children of color.

"These policies skew their perception of self and create a feeling of something about them needing to be fixed," Nelson said. "That is not a good message to send to young, impressionable children, and it is up to all of us adults to protect children, regardless of their phenotype, from any threat to their mental or emotional well-being."

Opponents of the bill raised concerns that it would affect private and military schools, which often have uniform dress code and hairstyle requirements in place.

Rep. La Shawn Ford, a Chicago Democrat, pushed back on that criticism Thursday, saying children should be made to feel comfortable regardless of their school.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ford said the bill is about "treating people right, respecting people, allowing people to be who they want to be."

"(Hair) gives you confidence, it gives you strength, it gives you power, and to force someone that believes in what gives them power to cut it off is bad," he said.

Rep. Cyril Nichols, a Chicago Democrat, said hair is important to freedom of expression, and should have no impact on a student's performance in school activities.

"A person wearing their hair is not going to affect anybody learning what two plus two is," Nichols said. "This allows people to be free, allows people to live their life in a way they want to, private or not."

The bill passed 89-22. It already passed the Senate but will be sent back for concurrence on a minor amendment before being sent to the governor.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Attention: We are experiencing technical difficulties with our Facebook Comments module at this time. Comments will remain disabled until we are able to resolve the problem. We apologize for the interruption. We invite you to engage with our content and talk with other commenters on our Daily Herald Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DailyHeraldFans/. Thank you.