Starting next school year, dress code policies at Chicago’s public schools can no longer ban head coverings tied to race, ethnicity or hair texture, a change approved without discussion Wednesday by the Chicago Board of Education.

The Tribune last month found in a comprehensive review of recent school dress code policies that more than 115 public schools in the district banned protective hair-care items such as do-rags, wave caps, head-wraps, bonnets and bandannas. Some students of color who spoke with the Tribune said bans on protective head coverings made them feel like parts of their identities or their culture were not welcome at school.

Some schools, including charters and military academies, are not subject to the district’s dress code guidelines. Still, the new policy will apply to more than 500 public elementary and high schools in Chicago.

The updated policy also bans schools from prohibiting hairstyles like locks, twists or braids in the 2022-23 school year, mimicking a new state law aimed at eliminating discrimination based on a student’s hair. The law, which took effect in January, does not extend to head coverings.

In a written statement, Chicago Public Schools said that the changes are “responsive to the needs of our students and our school communities” and that school discipline should not be used to “address the use of hairstyles or head coverings that are historically connected in a student’s culture, race, ethnicity or religion.”

Tina Curry, a CPS teacher and former equity coach, said it was about time that the district shifted its guidance on student headgear to be more welcoming. She said the new policy could help students feel more comfortable in their own skin at school.

“They can just walk in there with their bonnets on their heads, wear their do-rags, and not have to worry about being kicked out of class because that’s what they wore to school,” Curry said.

She cautioned that students should expect some teachers and Local School Councils to resist the new guidance and that some adults still see certain head coverings as “not professional.”

School administrators and Local School Councils are tasked with creating and implementing dress code and uniform policies at individual schools.

The Tribune’s review of recent dress code policies, most of them from the 2021-22 school year, found that dozens of schools appeared not to be following existing district guidance on dress codes, which requires gender-neutral rules and prohibits the loss of instructional time for violations.

The statement from CPS said the district is working to ensure that policies are applied consistently.

Some schools have already eased their rules on hair coverings. Two assistant principals at Westinghouse College Prep in Humboldt Park revamped their entire dress code policy during the last school year after discovering that some rules, including restrictions on hair-care items like do-rags and bonnets, were causing some students to be admonished more than others.

“The original dress code, it was very explicit: no do-rags, no bonnets,” Assistant Principal Madisson Dickson said late last year. “There were students that explicitly said that those are protective for specifically Black students and their hairstyles, and this is targeting a particular group of students in this building.”

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