#PolicyforthePeople Bills to Watch: HB338

Tell schools to keep their codes (and hands) out of Black kid’s hair!


HB 338 is an education bill that addresses bullying, harassment, and discrimination policy. The bill requires schools to take reasonable steps to prevent and eliminate discrimination against students and also requests increased work on community engagement and discrimination-related training for school employees.


OPEN is particularly excited about this bill because it specifically requires schools to “create a safe and inclusive environment for minorities and women” and also specifies that policies “shall not deter students from embracing culture and diversity, including the expression of culture through hair and hair styles.” This means that schools would be required to protect Black girls and boys from bullying and discrimination (by both children and adults) that occurs because of the way they wear their hair.


Earlier this school year we saw the heart-breaking viral video of a 6th grader in the New Orleans area crying while being made to leave her Catholic school because of her braided hairstyle. Fortunately her family and community were able to advocate for her. Unfortunately not all Black children are so lucky. OPEN strongly supports HB 338 because we believe it will increase equity and transparency in the way schools treat their Black students. This bill is also timely because of its national and international significance: Black girls around the world are being criminalized and discriminated against based on their hairstyles, for example in Texas, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, here in New Orleans, and even South Africa.


Make NO mistake: the sanctioning of styles and codes particular to Black culture in schools has NOTHING to do with learning, safety, or so-called preparation for the professional world. These kinds of policies continue a long history of hyper-surveillance of and control over Black bodies that began with slavery. Rules banning certain hair styles are commonly designed as tools to police Black bodies, criminalize Black culture, and punish Black girls, in particular, in a way that does not directly break any rules or social norms (or use racist language) but still works as a method of continuing white supremacy through our public institutions. Further, the criminalization of Black culture has been used to deny Black children access to an education. Such policies- whether at public, private or parochial schools- are RACIST. Full stop.


HB338 is a necessary first step for Louisiana to decrease the criminalization of its Black students and protect them from bullying and harassment based on their hair, and could even be the building blocks to join New York in making hair discrimination an illegal form of racial discrimination.


For more information about this bill, please contact the office of Rep. Patricia Smith or Ms. Nia Weeks of Citizen SHE United.


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