Ohio House passes bill banning discrimination against students’ hair styles in public schools

Long-awaited bipartisan protection heads to state Senate for further consideration

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Ohio public school students may soon be legally protected from discrimination on the basis of their hairstyle if the Senate follows up favorably on the House’s bipartisan proposal, which passed the chamber earlier this month by an 83-8 vote.

The bill’s overwhelming passage in the House follows a yearslong effort to get this legislation approved by either of Ohio’s General Assembly chambers. Proponents of House Bill 178 on both sides of the aisle see it as a long overdue first step toward critical public policy.

“Hairstyles are an extension of your race and your ethnicity. Allowing schools to discriminate against students who proudly represent their race or their ethnicity is nothing short of prejudice,” said Rep. Josh Williams, R-Sylvania.

Williams explained that the state’s current anti-discrimination laws aren’t sufficient due to federal court rulings that have decreed that hair textures and styles are not “immutable” aspects of race and can therefore be regulated in certain settings.

“This is simply saying that hair texture should be protected, and no one should be forced to go to school and change their hairstyle if they attend a public school,” he said.

Rep. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland, who has stewarded the bill for the past six years, said kids as young as five years old have faced hair discrimination because their hair was in an afro puff.

“That is what’s happening right here in Ohio and then we wonder why people are leaving our state,” Brent said.

No opponents spoke against the bill on the House floor, but eight Republicans did vote against it, three of which are bald. The only local Republicans to vote against the bill (Greene County Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia, and Butler County Rep. Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria) each don a full head of hair.

Rep. Tom Young, R-Washington Twp., counted himself as “one of the bald guys voting for this bill.”

“No one should be discriminated against for a physical trait, such as hairstyle, or in my case, a lack thereof,” Young said.

The bill, known as the CROWN Act, or the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, started off as a much more expansive protection.

What was once intended to be a blanket protection on everyone, specifically for students and staff at both public and private education institutions, was whittled down to a protection only for public school students from preschool through senior year of high school.

Rep. Jamie Callender, R-Concord, who sponsored the bill alongside Brent, conceded that the version that passed the House wasn’t exactly what he and Brent had in mind.

“While my joint sponsor and I very much wish it was more expansive at this point, the (realities) of getting a bill passed require sometimes that we make compromises on what we really would like to see,” Callender said, before hinting that a more expansive bill might come next year.

During the committee process, the only opponent to testify against the bill was the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, which took issue with the proposal back when it was significantly more expansive.

The Chamber raised concerns that an expanded bill would increase civil liability for employers, limit at-will employment protections employers enjoy in Ohio, and restrict an employer’s ability to “set their own workplace policies that aim to keep customers and employees healthy” — a set of concerns that may be echoed if the bill’s proponents move forward with any expanded protection in Ohio’s near future.

With its passage, the bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

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Avery Kreemer can be reached at 614-981-1422, on X, via email, or you can drop him a comment/tip with the survey below.

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