Alaska bill seeks to bar hair discrimination in schools

The columns of the alaska state capitol
The Alaska State Capitol building in Juneau, pictured in Feb. 2017. (KTOO file photo)

Alaska school districts could not adopt dress codes that bar students from wearing hairstyles associated with race or from wearing traditional tribal regalia at graduation ceremonies under legislation passed by state lawmakers on Wednesday.

The bill, as it passed the Senate in March, also would have restricted businesses from adopting workplace dress codes that prohibit employees from wearing natural hairstyles, such as braids, or hairstyles “commonly or historically associated with race.” However, the section related to businesses was stripped in the House, which passed the pared down version relating to school dress codes on Tuesday.

The Senate agreed to the House changes Wednesday.

Sen. David Wilson, who sponsored the bill, said in a floor speech before Wednesday’s vote that he would support the bill as it stood “no matter how incremental this is.”

“Racism in the workplace is not going away,” Wilson said, adding that he expected future work on the issue.

The bill, SB174, next goes to the governor.

The U.S. House in March passed legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of hair texture and hairstyles. The bill was sent to the Senate, where its fate was unclear.

A number of states also have passed legislation aimed at prohibiting race-based hair discrimination.

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