(The Center Square) – A measure that prohibits Illinois schools from issuing policies on hairstyles associated with race or ethnicity will soon be state law.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed Senate Bill 817, also known as the Jett Hawkins Act.
“Nobody should be made to feel ‘less than’ for how they express themselves," Pritzker said. "In Illinois, we’re making it so school uniform and dress code policies in Illinois cannot prohibit or restrict hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity, or hair texture.”
The measure is in response to a four-year-old boy in Chicago, Gus “Jett” Hawkins, who was told his braids violated his school's dress code.
The new legislation prohibits school district dress code policies from applying to hairstyles, including "hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity, or hair texture, including, but not limited to, protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists," according to the text of the measure.
State Sen. Mike Simmons brought the bill forward in hopes of helping kids like Jett, who have been affected by school dress code policies in the past.
"There have been too many children across the state of Illinois and this country that have been traumatized by school districts that are trying to police their hairstyles," Simmons said. “No child should ever have to experience being singled out by their school for sporting a hairstyle that remains true to their heritage, culture or ancestry.”
The original amendment was met with some opposition. Some opposed to the penalties school districts could face if they violate the law.
Simmons said that while there can be consequences for schools that do not comply, he said most schools will make the right decision.
"We should have a strong enforcement mechanism in place for schools that don't comply," Simmons said. "It is also my feeling that many school districts want to be on the right side of history where we will not need to contribute those opponents."
The legislation will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.