New State Law Bars Schools From 'Hairstyle Discrimination'

Illinois law is named after Jett Hawkins, 4
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 16, 2021 6:27 PM CDT
Illinois Law Bans School 'Hairstyle Discrimination'
Illinois state Sen. Mike Simmons rises to ask for a vote on a motion to officially rename Senate Bill 817 the "Jett Hawkins Act" on the floor of the Illinois Senate, Sunday, May 30, 2021.   (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

Earlier this year, 4-year-old Jett Hawkins was told that his braids were a violation of the dress code at a private school in Chicago. On Friday, he was present as Illinois Gov. Jay Pritzker signed the Jett Hawkins Act, banning hairstyle discrimination in schools. The law requires the state board of education to examine school handbooks to ensure there is no discrimination against Black hairstyles like braids, dreadlocks, and cornrows, CBS Chicago reports. It says schools should not apply their uniform or dress code policies to " hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity, or hair texture." Ida Nelson, Jett's mother, said the moment was "bigger than just hair," the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

"Our hair is an extension of who we are as a race and is deeply connected with our cultural identity,” Nelson said. The bill, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Mike Simmons, passed the state Senate in a 40-13 vote and was approved by the Illinois House 89-22. Simmons, who has dreadlocks, said he had experienced discrimination in school and decided to act after reading about Jett's case. "Black youth have been targeted and mistreated for far too long for expressing and honoring their heritage and their culture," he said Friday. "We cannot be holding our youth to spoken, and unspoken standards, about how you’re supposed to sound, act, and, in this case, look." (More Illinois stories.)

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