Alaska Legislature passes bill to ban discrimination against Black hairstyles in schools

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Published: May. 11, 2022 at 12:47 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Legislature has passed a bill that would prohibit discrimination against Black hairstyles in schools.

The bill was introduced by Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, and cross-sponsored by Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage. School dress codes would be prohibited from banning hairstyles like afros, cornrows and braids. Schools would be barred from requiring students to alter their hair.

There would also be a prohibition on schools banning students from wearing traditional and cultural regalia at graduation ceremonies. Some students were blocked from doing that during a West High School ceremony last year, but the Anchorage School District has since changed its policies to prevent that from happening again.

Wilson wrote in a sponsor statement when introducing the bill that “people of color and ethnic descent are deprived of educational and work opportunities because they are adorned with natural or protective hairstyles.

“People of color, especially Black women, are targeted disproportionately by workplace and school dress codes,” the statement continues to say.

Legislative committees received testimony from Alaskans who had experienced discrimination due to their hairstyles. There was testimony about the dangers and pain of using chemical relaxers.

The bill that left the Senate had protections for natural hairstyles in workplaces, but the House of Representatives stripped those out with doubts on how that would be enforced. Wilson said he didn’t agree with the changes made by the House, but he urged the Senate to pass the bill with hopes that more protections could be added in the future.

“But we are running out of time this session. I support this bill as it stands, no matter how incremental this is,” Wilson said on Wednesday. “The bill, as it is drafted, still protects our children of color.”

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Crown Act in March to ban discrimination against Black hairstyles. Over a dozen states have passed similar bills in recent years.

Senate Bill 174 now heads to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s desk for his consideration. The legislative session must end by midnight on May 18.

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