The drama involving a former Barbers Hill ISD student who refused to comply with the district’s dress code took a turn when one of the activists protesting the rule apologized to the board.
Gerry Monroe, a community activist, came before the Barbers Hill board in January claiming to be a “school district troublemaker.” On Monday night, Monroe declared a change of heart when he addressed the board again.
Monroe said he wanted to help the family when he first received a phone call about Deandre Arnold, a senior at Barbers Hill High School that had been told if he did not cut his dreadlocks to meet district policy, he would not be allowed to walk the stage at graduation.
Monroe added he was provided with “a bunch of misinformation.”
“I came in here, and I disrespected the board of trustees as well as this community,” he said. “All this was a money grab. This whole thing about dreadlocks was about money. Well, maybe it wasn’t.”
He described Barbers Hill ISD as a “victim.”
“One thing, I am not the guy who is afraid to expose anybody. ... That rule is outdated and still needs to be updated,” Monroe said. “From me to you, I sincerely apologize.”
Monroe said he also spoke to white students as well as black students at the district and claimed they both had issues with the dress code.
When Monroe last spoke to the Barbers Hill board, he said Arnold’s hairstyle is connected to Rastafari, an Abrahamic religion with its roots in Jamaica. He compared Arnold’s hairstyle to the biblical figure Sampson and said the board was in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Acts.
Superintendent Dr. Greg Poole thanked Monroe for his words.
“One thing I do know, there are people who are part of the solution and people who are part of the problem. I have been told you are always trying to be a part of the solution, and I thank you for that,” Poole said.
Desiree Stanislas, a cousin of Arnold’s that has been active in protesting the district’s hair policy, and the student’s father, David Arnold, both declined to respond to Monroe’s speech.
The issue began when after the first of the year, Arnold was informed he would have to cut his dreadlocks to be able to walk the stage in graduation and would also have to be enrolled as an in-suspension student and then go to alternative school. The issue arose after a slight policy change by the Barbers Hill board in December. Arnold was told in August his hair was out of code, but allowed to stay in regular school. After the change to the policy, students could wear their long hair up using rubber bands, hair clips and other methods, but if asked to take it down, it had to be in compliance.
The change came after some suggestions from the Department of Justice, which had investigated the district on another student with long hair issues. That student, Jabez Oates, was told when he was four years old in 2017 he could not attend the district until he cut his hair. His mother, Jessica, said her family was part Cocopah Indian and her sons’ long hair was a part of their culture. After a DOJ investigation, Poole said in August the allegations the district violated the religious freedom clause was withdrawn.
Jami Navarre, Barbers Hill ISD’s spokeswoman, explained why the district changed the policy in December.
“The newly proposed language was partly due to conversations with the DOJ and was designed with the help of legal counsel,” Navarre said. “The revisions included eliminating language that was redundant, vague or conflicted with language used in other areas of the document. This comprehensive document provides a clear picture of the expectations set forth in the area of dress and grooming while attending school in Barbers Hill.”
Navarre said exemptions from the policy at the district were already in place, but the policy change assisted the district.
“Requests for exemption from the dress code for valid religious or medical reasons have always been a part of our practices,” Navarre said. “Yes, we have had students exempted for religious and medical reasons in the past, but these requests have averaged one every other year. These revisions provide a systematic approach to processing them as well as add a layer of support for our families and campus administrators as we ensure their needs are being met in a timely and consistent manner.”