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Proposal to ban hair discrimination in Illinois schools passes in Senate

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Mike-Simmons, hair discrimination bill

Sen. Mike Simmons, sponsor of SB 817

UPDATE: 4:20 p.m. May 12, 2021

State Senator Mike Simmons’ (D-Chicago) legislation to end the practice of discriminating against students’ hairstyles in schools passed the Illinois Senate Wednesday afternoon.

“We can’t praise the creativity and individuality of students out of one side of our mouths, and then humiliate them for their hairstyle out of the other,” Simmons said. “To do that is more disruptive and harmful to students than any hairstyle ever could be. The hypocrisy of it undermines teachers’ authority, and in practice it falls most often on students of color who view these hairstyles as part of their heritage and culture.”

Southern Illinois Senators Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) and Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) both voted no.

Senate Bill 817 applies to all public, private and charter schools in the State. 

It now awaits consideration in the House.


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – State Democratic lawmakers hope to pass a proposal this month to ban discrimination of hairstyles in schools.

Sen. Mike Simmons (D-Chicago) says the school uniform or dress code policy should not include hairstyles associated with race, ethnicity, or hair texture. The bill specifically refers to braids, locks, and twists that many Black students have historically faced discipline for.

The freshman Senator is proud of his Black and Ethiopian heritage.

“No student should be forced to compromise their identity, nor should we continue to allow young people to be traumatized like this in 2021,” Simmons said.

He initially hoped to hold evidence-based funding from schools violating the rule until they complied. However, several members of the Senate Education Committee strongly urged against that idea last week. They suggested Simmons work with the State Board of Education to reach a compromise for his plan.

“ISBE has committed to doing a compliance probe every year to ensure that the schools are in compliance,” Simmons explained Tuesday. “So, I think that will be a pretty reasonable way to ensure enforcement and it’s pretty consistent with the other enforcements that they currently use.”

His amended bill also says the rule would apply to public and private schools. That means parochial schools and other non-public schools must follow the same policy if the bill is signed into law.

The proposal passed out of the Senate Education Committee on a partisan 9-4 vote. It now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

Currently, at least seven states protect the right to wear protective or natural hairstyles in the workplace and public schools.