Treyvion Gray says the dress code at his Needville school is discriminatory after spending weeks out of class because of his locs. If passed, the Crown Act would protect hairstyles like his.
Back view of a teen with locs working at his laptop.
Credit: Lumina/Stocksy

Treyvion Gray, an 18-year-old Needville High School student, was suspended from his Needville, Texas school after being told his locs touched his ears and violated the school's dress code policy. The school later banned him from graduation. He's fighting back with a federal lawsuit. 

Gray says he's been growing out his locs since his sophomore year. But, according to the lawsuit, starting in January, the assistant principal would "berate him about his hair length" each morning, asking when he would cut his hair. Not long after, those requests became more firm, eventually resulting in Gray being placed on in-school suspension on March 3rd because he hadn't cut it.

Gray was transferred to the disciplinary alternative education program on April 15th when he exceeded the number of days a student could be suspended. "Treyvion, your hair's getting too long, you're going to have to cut it," he told Insider the assistant principal told him. "And I said, 'Ma'am, why would I have to? Why am I going to have to cut my hair? There are other kids literally with hair longer than mine, and it's all past their collar. So why are you talking to me about mine?'"

The lawsuit says other, non-Black students had longer hairstyles, including mullets, and were allowed to keep them without consequence.

"Instead of his senior year being about celebration and us being happy, we're literally living in a nightmare right now," his mother Brahna Williams told Houston television station KPRC2. "It's hard for me to watch my son be discriminated against and to be mistreated because of his hair and the color of his skin."

Gray's attorney, Melissa Moore, agreed, noting how the experience impacted him. "We feel like his education is at peril. He's not receiving the same education as his fellow students, and at this point, he's in danger of not meeting the requirements to graduate all because of his hair," she says.

Gray says being isolated from his peers and being banned from participating in meaningful activities like graduation impacted his mental health. He filed a lawsuit in federal court suing Needville Independent School District, its board of trustees, superintendent, high school principal, and assistant principal. The lawsuit argues that Gray's hair is an expression of his Black identity and culture and that the dress code policy perpetuates racial and sexual discrimination.

"The length of locs have no bearing on NISD Black students' capacity to learn, yet the wholly arbitrary Dress and Hair Policy restricts the mobility of Black students in public and private spaces, denies them equal educational opportunities, and strikes at the freedom and dignity of the NISD Black student population," the lawsuit says.

Needville Independent School District's dress code policy says the goal of the dress code is to "teach hygiene, instill discipline, prevent disruption, avoid safety hazards, and assert authority." Gray's experience and the stories of other Black students who have been punished for their hairstyles remind us that descriptions like "looking clean and neat" disproportionately leave students from  Black communities vulnerable to punishments like suspensions and expulsions.

The dress code lists many expectations around appearance, many of which address hair and directly impact Black students with things like: "One straight line for parting purposes is allowed, tufts, tails, cornrows or designs are NOT permitted, and Extreme hair-dos of any nature as determined by the principal or his designee are NOT allowed." 

Multiple parts and cornrows are common elements of natural and traditionally Black hairstyles. Gray's experience shows that when principals and school officials decide what's appropriate or "extreme" there's room for bias. 

The dress code continues noting the expectations for boys are even more strict, noting "Boys' hair shall NOT cover any part of the ears, beyond the eyebrows, or over the top of a standard collar in the back when combed down—even when not wearing a standard collar." Gray's locs were longer than his ear. For boys, that's a dress code violation. 

The lawsuit says the policies and the discrimination he faced impacted his mental health. "As a result of being targeted, removed from the student population and threatened with not being allowed to participate in senior year activities, including graduation ceremony, Gray's emotional health has suffered, including stress and depression," the lawsuit says. "(The district's) hostile and wrongful actions individually and in the aggregate have made Gray feel unwelcome, ostracized and inferior."

Black students are some of the loudest proponents of the CROWN Act or Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, legislation that, if signed into law, would prohibit race-based hair discrimination, making things like labeling locs, braids, or other protective styles as unprofessional completely illegal. But the benefits of this legislation extended beyond schools. If hair discrimination is banned, Black communities would see protection from hair discrimination in the workplace and potentially competitive environments as well. So far, the act has passed the House—a decision hasn't been made in the Senate.

Spectrum News One provided an update saying after the recent hearing on May 3rd, Gray was granted a temporary restraining order, an act that allows him to return to school, attend classes, and events like his May 20th graduation. "I'm excited. It's going to feel real good. I've been wanting to graduate for a long time. I've been ready to graduate out of that school,"  Gray.

We'll see what the future holds for his case against the school district.