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Bill banning discrimination of natural hair in K-12 schools passes in Ohio House

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Bill banning discrimination of natural hair in K-12 schools passes in Ohio House

Jun 13, 2024 | 4:45 am ET
By Megan Henry
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Bill banning discrimination of natural hair in K-12 schools passes in Ohio House
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A mother and daughter. (Getty Images.)

The Ohio House passed a bipartisan bill that would ban discrimination against natural hair in K-12 schools with a 83-7 vote during Wednesday’s session. 

State Reps. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland, and Jamie Callender, R-Concord, introduced the CROWN Act — which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair – last year. The bill would also allow someone who alleges that a public school has discriminated against them based on traits associated with their race the ability to sue in any court that has jurisdiction.

“Hair discrimination is real,” Brent said Tuesday at a Juneteenth press conference. “I don’t feel like anybody should have to conform to Eurocentric values of having to have my hair straight. It’s stressful.”

She said people have told her to straighten her hair and recalled when one of her first aides had an afro and people in the Statehouse told her to doing something about it. 

“I remember I said well that’s how his hair grows. It grows like that,” she said. “That’s the world we’re living in — where people do not feel seen, do not feel accepted.” 

Hair discrimination is part of the reason why people are leaving Ohio, she argued.

“How dare somebody tell you how you should look when that’s your natural state of your hair,” Brent said. “Hair discrimination is alive and legal here in Ohio.”

Republican Reps. Gary Click, Rodney Creech, Al Cutrona, Bill Dean, Kevin Miller, Reggie Stoltzfus and Scott Wiggam all voted against the bill.

Callender shared a story that happened 25 years ago that led him to ultimately co-sponsor the bill. He said a mother told him how she got her daughter ready for her first day of kindergarten by putting cornrows and beads in her hair. 

“One hour into the school day, she got a phone call and they said that her hair was outside of the dress code and she wasn’t allowed to attend her first day of kindergarten, and was waiting in the office for her mom to pick her up to correct her hair,” Callender said. “Think of what that does to a child personally at school. … That’s not acceptable. And this will make sure that that doesn’t happen in the future.”

Rep. John Williams, R- Sylvania, spoke up in support of the bill on the House floor. 

“Students are required to go to school by law, so why should schools be allowed to prevent them from wearing their hair in a natural, culturally appropriate and healthy way?” he said. “Hair styles are an extension of your race and ethnicity.”

This is the third time Brent has introduced this bill, but it previously never made it out of committee. 

Ohio House Bill 178 originally would have prohibited discrimination against natural hair in jobs and housing, and would have made it unlawful to discriminate against someone’s hair texture and protective hair styles such as braids, locks and twists under Ohio’s Civil Rights Law.

But an amendment to the bill in committee removed all of those things from the bill — leaving only public K-12 schools. 

“This bill originally was a lot more expansive than what we have for you today,” Callender said. “Getting a bill passed requires sometimes that we make compromises on what we’d really like to see and might very well be introduced again next year.”

Columbus, Cleveland Heights, Akron, and Cincinnati have already enacted the CROWN Act at the local level. Nationwide, 23 states have already enacted the CROWN Act as of last summer, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Two-thirds of Black children in majority-white schools have faced race-based hair discrimination, according to a 2021 CROWN Act study. 86% of those children reported experiencing hair discrimination by age 12. 

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on X.