A Texas teenager is embroiled in a major controversy with his school. Officials recently demanded DeAndre Arnold cut his dreadlocks if he wanted to return to school or attend his graduation ceremony. Ellen decided to take action.
DeAndre Arnold is a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, which is located about 30 miles east of Houston.
Arnold chooses to wear his hair in dreadlocks because of his family’s Trinidadian culture. He’s worn his hair like this for years.
In an interview with NBC affiliate KPRC, he said, “I really like that part of Trinidadian culture, so, I mean, I really embrace that.”
Everything was fine at his school until they suddenly changed their dress code after Christmas break, three months before graduation.
The new rules stipulate that “hair must be clean and well-groomed.” Male students’ hair, they say, shouldn’t extend below the ear lobes, the eyebrows or the top of a T-shirt collar.
Even though Arnold wears his hair tied up, the district says he’s still breaking code because he would be violating the rules if it were down.
“They say that even though my hair is up and I follow all of the regulations, that if it was down, it would be out of dress code,” said Arnold.
“Not that I’m out of dress code, but if I was to take it down, I would be out of dress code, which doesn’t make any sense. I don’t take it down at school.”
Ellen invited DeAndre Arnold on “The Ellen Show” after she heard about what his school was doing. The host made it clear on air that she was dismayed by the situation.
At the beginning of the segment, Ellen said to Arnold, “I’m sure this is not easy or comfortable for you, but I want you to just relax and know that I’m here for you.”
“That’s why you’re here,” she said. “Because I don’t understand this. You get good grades. You’ve never been in trouble, ever. This is the first time anything has come up and now you haven’t been in school for weeks because of this situation.”
Ellen then questioned whether girls were allowed to have long hair at Arnold’s school, and he replied, “There’s plenty of girls with long hair at my school. Like, if girls can have long hair, why can’t I have long hair?”
“I just personally think you should be able to wear your hair however you want, especially if there’s girls with long hair. What’s the difference if girls have long hair and if guys have long hair,” said Ellen.
Ellen pleaded with the school through the camera, saying, “I am begging you. This kid is a good kid. He deserves to graduate, to walk with all the other kids. He’s a good guy. I just am urging you to do the right thing. Please.”
As if this situation couldn’t get any more surreal for Arnold, Ellen took it up a notch. Superstar singer Alicia Keys appeared on stage to award Arnold with a $20,000 scholarship for college. Arnold wants to be a veterinarian one day.
Keys said to Arnold, “I want to tell you that I couldn’t believe the story when I heard it. And I’m super proud of you for standing up for what you know is right. And I know that the school needs to do the right thing.”