Illinois Lawmaker Wants to Stop Hair Discrimination in Schools: 'These Policies Are Outdated'

"As somebody who has been targeted and discriminated myself by schools, and has been resilient, I don't want the next generation to have to go through this," Illinois state Sen. Mike Simmons said

State Senator Mike Simmons
Illinois state Sen. Mike Simmons. Photo: Mike Simmons/Twitter

An Illinois lawmaker this week introduced a proposal that he said is aimed at stopping discrimination in schools based on a student's hair — citing his own experience growing up.

State Sen. Mike Simmons, a Democrat from the northside of Chicago, introduced his legislation on Monday.

If passed, it would bar schools from having rules against "hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity, or hair texture," specifically referring to "hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists."

"No student should be forced to compromise their identity, nor should we continue to allow young people to be traumatized like this in 2021," said Simmons, 38, according local TV station to local WSIL.

Simmons has a Black mother and an Ethiopian-American father, who came to the U.S. as a refugee.

"I'm proud of my African-American and Ethiopian heritage and my hair is a reflection of me and my ancestors," he tweeted Tuesday.

During an interview on WGN radio, he said local news stories about young Black students being forced at school to change their hairstyles is what led him to introduce the proposal.

"I just think in 2021 these policies are outdated," he said. "I know that our schools want to be on the right side of history on this."

Simmons said he wants the ban on these student hair restrictions to apply to both public and private schools.

"This is a really straightforward proposition," he said earlier this month, according to the Danville Commercial-News. "As somebody who has been targeted and discriminated myself by schools, and has been resilient, I don't want the next generation to have to go through this."

The measure is pending in the state legislature.

State Senator Mike Simmons
Illinois State Sen. Mike Simmons. State Senator Mike Simmons/Facebook

There are currently seven U.S. states that have laws against hair discrimination in schools and the workplace, according to the Brookings Institute.

Similar legislation was passed by the House of Representatives in September: The CROWN Act stands for "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair," according to its advocacy website.

According to research by Brookings, Black students are disciplined in schools at a rate four times greater than other students and "are more likely to be suspended for discretionary reasons such as dress code or long hair violations."

"Discretionary school suspensions, particularly related to Black hairstyles, are shameful and disproportionately applied," the institute says.

Simmons became the state's first openly gay senator when he was elected last winter and also became the first Black senator elected in his northside Chicago district.

He previously worked as a deputy director of the Obama Foundation's My Brother's Keeper alliance.

He told local station WTTW in February it is important to have diversity in government offices.

"I think it's so important to have people in elected offices who have the lived experiences to be able to articulate the needs of the community," he said, "and to advocate on behalf of people from across the spectrum."

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