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Pritzker signs legislation to prevent hair discrimination in schools

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed Senate Bill 817 into law, prohibiting schools from issuing policies on hairstyles historically associated with race or ethnicity. The legislation addresses injustices in dress code polices and protects Black youth in Illinois facing hair bias in schools on Friday, Aug. 13.

“Nobody should be made to feel ‘less than’ for how they express themselves – so in Illinois, we’re making it so school uniform and dress code policies in Illinois cannot prohibit or restrict hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity, or hair texture,” said Pritzker. 

The bill prohibits school uniform and dress code policies from restricting hairstyles that have been historically associated with race, ethnicity, or hair texture. This may include, but is not limited to, braids, locks, and twists. The bill requires the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to provide schools with educational resource materials to teach about protective hairstyles. The materials will be developed in consultation with stakeholders and will be made available on ISBE’s website.

“Whether beads, locs, twists or braids, no child should be pushed out of school for wearing natural or textured hairstyles,” said Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton. “As the mother of four daughters who rock their natural hair, I believe all of our children deserve to be safe, supported and free to express their individuality and cultural pride in school. Now in Illinois, this is the case.”

SB 817, also known as the Jett Hawkins Law, is in response to a four-year-old boy in Chicago, Gus “Jett” Hawkins, who was told his braids were in violation of the school dress code. His mother, Ida Nelson, began raising awareness on the negative impacts of stigmatizing children’s hair and the impact it can have on their educational development.

“This is so monumental. I would like to express gratitude for the senator and governor in helping me do the work to move our country from intolerant and repressive systems that directly impacted people of color and have prevented us from being accepted in our true, natural states,” said Nelson. 

“Young people should be free to express who they are and celebrate their heritage through their hairstyles, especially in an educational setting,” said State House Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago). “The Jett Hawkins law will remove historical barriers that have disproportionately burdened students of color in Illinois and I am proud to have played a part in this important step forward.”

“We’ve all seen the awful headlines around the country of Black youth being targeted and humiliated because of their hair, and today we are turning the page on that history here in Illinois. Learning at a young age that you have agency over your own life is empowering for Black youth, and I’m proud of Jett and his mother Ida Nelson for taking a stand on the issue and for becoming activists for Black people to be able to wear their hair naturally and as they see fit in all spaces,” said State Sen. Mike Simmons (D-Chicago). 

Simmons was also the Senate sponsor for the bill.

SB 817 is effective January 1, 2022.

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