Denver school board affirms state ban on discrimination against hair and hairstyles

A Zoom screenshot of four Denver school board members: Jennifer Bacon, Carrie Olson, Angela Cobián, and Barbara O’Brien.
School board Vice President Jennifer Bacon, top left, sponsored the resolution. Also shown are board members Carrie Olson, Angela Cobián, and Barbara O’Brien. (Screenshot by Melanie Asmar/Chalkbeat)

Denver school district policies that protect against discrimination based on race will now explicitly include protection from discrimination based on hair and hairstyle.

The school board on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution in support of a state law passed earlier this year that bans discrimination based on hair texture, hair type, or hairstyle such as “braids, locs, twists, tight coils or curls, cornrows, Bantu knots, Afros, and headwraps.”

The state law is called the Crown Act, which stands for the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act. The law already applies to public schools, but Thursday’s vote by the school board codified its language in school district policy.

“Wherever a district policy includes protection for students, staff, or community members on the basis of race, it will include protection for discrimination or harassment on the basis of hair and hairstyle,” the resolution says.

It also directs the district to “distribute information broadly to all schools, departments, students, and the community regarding the implementation of the Crown Act to ensure that all of our students and employees feel empowered to celebrate their natural hair and hairstyles.”

The school board resolution was sponsored by board Vice President Jennifer Bacon. “I grew up in a time where in order for me to get a job or be seen as professional, my hair needed to be straight,” Bacon said at a school board work session last week. 

Connecting to Thursday’s meeting via Zoom from her home, she said, “I am glad to be here today with my degrees on my wall, with my headband and my braids.”

At hearings for the state law, lawmakers recalled incidents in which students were suspended for violating school dress code. In a high-profile 2015 case, a student at Denver’s Northfield High School was charged with assault and resisting arrest in an incident involving a purple bandana. The charges were eventually dropped.

Of the Crown Act resolution, board President Carrie Olson said, “We often bat ‘equity’ around, and I think this is an example of equity in practice.”

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