On July 7, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act by a 182-21 bipartisan vote.
CROWN stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. If the Senate passes the measure, it will amend the state’s Human Relations Act to prohibit discrimination based on hair texture or style and apply to both students and employees.
To date, about two dozen states and 40 cities, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have adopted versions of the act. Although broader federal regulations already ban discrimination based on sex and race, the CROWN Act is another tool to battle bias. Pennsylvania law does not outlaw discrimination based on hair type.
PHRC Supports Full Passage of the CROWN Act
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) supports full passage of the law. The PHRC announced new regulations in June that expand the definition of race to include hairstyles and hair texture.
The new regulations also clarify definitions of protected classes of sex and religious creed. They are published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and will go into effect as of August 16.
What Is the CROWN Act and Why Is It Needed?
In a memorandum sent to all House members, the bill’s co-sponsors, Representatives La’Tasha D. Mayes and Joanna E. McClinton, asked a series of questions: “Have you ever thought about changing your hairstyle for a job interview or have you ever been told that your hair is not professional or appropriate? Have you ever been denied access to a school, social venue, or job solely based on your type of hair or hairstyle? Have you ever had to cut your hair before you participated in a sport or activity?”
“If not, then consider yourself lucky,” they wrote.”
According to Mayes and McClinton, despite current anti-discrimination policies, Black Americans and other people of color are regularly subjected to such incidents.
“We know that subtle and overt forms of discrimination occur when individuals are singled out for having hairstyles outside of the ‘norm’ of what our society deems to be ‘acceptable,’ ‘proper,’ or ‘professional,’” they said.
The proposed legislation would ban discrimination in schools and workplaces based on hairstyles typically associated with Black Americans, including but not limited to braids, locs, twists, coils, Bantu knots, afros, and extensions.
“Historically, these hairstyles have created a problem for many human resources managers, educators and coaches, who want employees, students, or participants to follow established policies and maintain a uniform ‘neat’ appearance regardless of culture or ethnicity,” Mayes and McClinton said.
Bottom Line for Schools
The bill moves onto the Senate for a vote and, if passed, would go to the governor for signature. If that happens, school districts should review their codes of conduct, dress codes, and grooming policies.
Dress code language should be in line with the requirements of the CROWN Act and scrutinized to ensure that subjective words like “unkempt” or “distracting” are removed.
School districts should communicate any policy changes to school staff, students, and parents. A school solicitor can help school officials review and revise policies to ensure they comply with the law.
Additionally, school districts should consider training to ensure compliance by teaching staff and other school personnel. School employees should understand that disciplinary action against students or exclusion from activities inside and outside the classroom based on hairstyles is prohibited.
Under the proposed law, school districts and other employers can still enforce a grooming requirement specific to a job that applies to all employees regardless of race. Any policies should be applied equally to all employees. Again, a school attorney can provide guidance.
As the proposed legislation awaits action by the Senate, school districts should refrain from treating employees or students differently because of their hairstyles. Such conduct could be enough to support a discrimination complaint even without a statewide CROWN law.
School administrators may also want to take a look at their policies and see how they line up with the measure.
School leaders with questions about the CROWN Act should contact their school solicitor or one of the Education attorneys at KingSpry.