In January 2020 DeAndre Arnold hit the headlines. His high school had suspended him, you see, when he refused to trim his dreadlocks – a violation of the school’s dress code. But when DeAndre’s plight came to the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, she seemingly felt compelled to invite the teenager onto her show. And while he was in the studio, the young man would receive a shocking surprise.
A resident of Mont Belvieu, Texas, DeAndre was just like any other senior student prior to his suspension. And with graduation on the horizon, he was naturally preparing himself for the next stage of his young life. But, of course, those plans were thrown out the window when DeAndre returned to high school following winter break.
Yes, while studying at Barbers Hill High School, DeAndre received some unsettling news – and it was all to do with his dreadlocks. This was despite the fact that the teenager had been sporting the same hairstyle for years. During that time, he had even purposely tied his hair up in order to follow the school’s dress code policy.
However, DeAndre’s world was turned upside down after the dress code was altered following the winter break. Owing to this revision of the rules, then, he was required to either cut his dreadlocks or face suspension from the school. And the senior student subsequently refused to make the necessary change – although he did explain his decision when appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in January 2020.
But before we get into DeAndre’s TV shock, it’s important to examine the background to his story. For instance, you may be wondering why the young man had such a firm stance against trimming his dreadlocks given the consequences that awaited him. Well, as it turns out, his reasoning was pretty straightforward.
You see, DeAndre’s dad originally hailed from Trinidad, where growing dreadlocks is commonplace. And as the teenager wanted to follow that cultural tradition, he ultimately styled his own hair in a similar fashion. When DeAndre adopted the look a few years ago, though, he likely didn’t know that it would eventually spark controversy.
Regardless, DeAndre has since opened up about his decision to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Speaking to KPRC in January 2020, he explained, “I really like that part of Trinidadian culture. So, I mean I really embrace that.” Still, in addition to adopting the dreadlocks, the student also wanted to respect his school’s dress code.
So, with that in mind, DeAndre chose to tie his dreadlocks in a bid to keep the hair out of his face. And everything appeared to be fine over the following period, as the Mont Belvieu resident racked up some impressive grades in his classes. He ultimately began to cast his eye to the future, too.
In particular, DeAndre aspired to one day become a veterinarian – a dream that he seemingly was on track to achieve. Yet despite all of that hard work at school, the youngster’s life took a dramatic turn in the early part of 2020. And it all started after he and his fellow students returned from their winter break.
Following the Christmas holidays, you see, the school district unveiled an alteration to the dress code that Barbers Hill looked to enforce. And this change was all to do with the length of the boys’ hair, as the high school’s handbook explained.
The relevant passage in the handbook read, “Male students’ hair will not extend, at any time, below the eyebrows or below the earlobes. Male students’ hair must not extend below the top of a T-shirt collar or be gathered or worn in a style that would allow the hair to extend below the top of a T-shirt collar, below the eyebrows or below the earlobes when let down.”
Owing to that last sentence, then, DeAndre was now accused of violating the updated dress code. And, unsurprisingly, the senior student was somewhat perplexed by this new situation at his school, as his hairstyle hadn’t actually changed. During his conversation with KPRC, then, he went on to share his initial reaction.
DeAndre said to the NBC affiliate, “[The school] 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. 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.”
So, while DeAndre was instructed to trim his beloved dreadlocks, he ignored the school’s demand. And this stance prompted Barbers Hill to give him an ultimatum. The institution intimated, in fact, that the teenager would have a tough choice to make if he wanted to continue having long hair.
If he did not comply with the order, DeAndre would have to serve an in-school suspension, or ISS. This potentially meant that he would have to complete his studies at an “alternative school.” And to make matters even worse, the student was threatened with being barred from his own graduation ceremony unless he cut his hair.
After the ultimatum came to light, however, DeAndre’s mom, Sandy Arnold, offered her thoughts to ABC News. In January 2020 she explained, “I refuse to send [DeAndre] to ISS [because] he hasn’t done anything wrong. [I’m angry that the school] never called me because DeAndre was being disrespectful or because of his grades, but because of his hair.”
And when Sandy spoke with KPRC, she made one thing very clear. Upon being asked if she would trim DeAndre’s dreadlocks, she replied, “Absolutely not. This is his belief. This is a part of who he is. This is his culture. This is what we believe. So absolutely not; I’m not going to cut his hair.”
With tensions rising, then, the superintendent of Barbers Hill High School released a strong statement of his own. And in this message, Greg Poole reiterated the school’s position on the matter, claiming that staff there wouldn’t be pressured into bending the rules.
Poole stated, “Our board of trustees, which has included African-American representation, takes their role of representing our local community as one of their chief priorities. We allow any legally accepted religious or medical exemptions to our dress code. [We] have allowed such exemptions in the past.”
Poole added, however, “We will continue to be a child-centered district that seeks to maximize the potential of every child. Local control is sacred to this country, and we will not be bullied or intimidated by outside influences.” So, with neither side showing any sign of backing down, Sandy eventually pulled DeAndre out of the school.
On top of that, Sandy suggested that she was willing to file a lawsuit. Speaking to KHOU-TV in January 2020, the teenager’s mother explained, “We’re here for DeAndre, but it’s about more than that. This is about all the other DeAndres that could come through Barbers Hill.”
But as DeAndre’s tale began generating media interest, he received a surprising message. Yes, it appears that Ellen had caught sight of the story and had decided to get in contact with the teenager. She offered DeAndre a spot on her talk show too, where he could discuss everything that had happened.
So, just like Ellen’s other guests, DeAndre sat down with the comedian on stage and in front of the studio audience. But this certainly wouldn’t be a standard interview for the show, as the host chose to make clear from the outset.
As the chat begins, Ellen puts DeAndre at ease by explaining that this is an unusual situation. The pair then discuss the broad strokes of the story, with the teenager bringing up the school’s dress code. Following this moment, though, he’s asked if the female pupils have to abide by the same rules regarding hair.
DeAndre responds, “There’s plenty of girls with long hair at my school. Like, if girls can have long hair, why can’t I?” This draws a round of applause from the studio audience. And Ellen seems to agree. “I just personally think you should be able to wear your hair however you want,” she says. “Especially if there’s girls with long hair.”
Ellen then encourages DeAndre to talk about the cultural significance behind his dreadlocks. And the student duly takes this opportunity to speak about his heritage and the importance of his hairstyle – as well as to deliver a stinging message to his high school.
DeAndre explains, “My hair is really important to me because my dad is from Trinidad. And you know, it’s part of our culture and our heritage. I really wish [that] the school would be open to other cultures and just let us tell [them] some things. Don’t just shut us out.”
But as the resulting round of applause dies down, Ellen makes an observation of her own. The host says, “Yeah, I think that’s what school’s supposed to do is teach you about other cultures. You’re not supposed to teach them! They’re supposed to teach you.” The pair then go on to discuss the ultimatum that DeAndre had been given.
And after DeAndre brings up the choices that had been presented to him, Ellen asks him what “alternative school” is. To this, the teenager responds, “Alternative school is where all the kids that have behavioral issues, sell drugs [and] fight all the time [are sent].”
DeAndre continues, “I wish the best for [those kids]. And I know they have good qualities in them, but I don’t deserve to be grouped with them. I’ve worked [to graduate high school] all my life. I’ve strived for this. I deserve this moment to walk across [the] stage and enter into life.”
“My parents deserve this,” DeAndre adds. “Like, they’re the ones who, you know, they got me through anything. And they just taught me everything. They deserve to see me walk across the stage [and graduate].” And off the back of this impassioned statement, Ellen asks the senior about his future plans.
DeAndre confirms that he wants to go to college, as he plans to pursue his desire to become a veterinarian. In the process, he also reveals his love of animals, admitting that their “companionship” and “loyalty” mean a lot to him. And so a clearly impressed Ellen goes on to make a plea to the school.
Staring directly into the camera, the host says, “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 am just urging you to do the right thing. Please. Change your mind!” And it’s after this that DeAndre receives a real shock.
Following Ellen’s outpouring of support, she motions for one of her other guests to come out. The person in question is Alicia Keys, who as it turns out is carrying a large board in her hands. And after the famous singer/songwriter walks towards DeAndre, she offers her own kind words to the starstruck student.
Then, Keys finally turns around the board – which is actually a check for $20,000. The money is to help go towards DeAndre’s college education, and naturally the gift leaves the teenager absolutely floored. And the memorable segment comes to a close with Ellen once again pleading on behalf of DeAndre to camera.
A clip of DeAndre’s time as an Ellen guest was subsequently posted on the show’s official YouTube channel, where it’s since earned in excess of 2.7 million views. And the internet backing for the teen didn’t end with the more than 107,000 likes that the video garnered, either.
Ultimately, you see, a petition titled “Let DeAndre Arnold March With His Class” was launched on Change.org. And as of March 2020, the goal of 2,500 signatures is very close to being reached, as over 1,800 people have put their names down in support.
But there would be one more surprising twist in store for DeAndre and his family. As the stand-off with the school continued, the teenager received an invitation to the 2020 Academy Awards. He was asked to attend the event by the director of the animated short film Hair Love, which deals with the subject of African-American hair.
Then, after accepting the kind gesture from director Matthew Cherry, DeAndre attended the star-studded occasion with Sandy. And as the student walked the red carpet, both he and Cherry were snapped sporting their respective dreadlocks. DeAndre had the chance to voice his appreciation, too, when he took part in a pre-Oscars interview with Refinery29.
Before the ceremony, DeAndre said, “I’m so grateful. I never expected any of this. The message of [Hair Love] and my message go together so well. I think it’s really amazing how they reached out to me and how we can fight this together. As teenagers, we have a voice, and we’re the future. I want more cultural acceptance.”