In 2021 4-year-old Jett Hawkins was told that his braids (and then his ponytail) were in violation of the dress code policy at his school in Chicago. Jett’s mother, Ida Nelson, who initially worked with Jett’s school on a handbook policy that was decades old, began raising awareness regarding the concern and the impact of stigmatizing children’s hair and the impact it can have on educational development. Furthermore, Jett’s mother advocates that hair is an extension of who individuals are as a race and is deeply connected to cultural identity. Senate Bill 817, sponsored by Senator Mike Simmons (D-Chicago), was signed into law on August 13, 2021, after Jett’s story was publicized.
Illinois Public Act 102-0360, known as the Jett Hawkins Law, prevents school boards, local school councils, charter schools, and non-public elementary and secondary schools from creating hairstyle-based dress code requirements. Specifically, the Public Act prohibits discriminating against hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity, or hair texture, including, but not limited to, protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists. This law takes effect January 1, 2022. Schools that do not comply with this law risk losing recognition status from the Illinois State Board of Education.
Pursuant to Public Act 102-0360 (Simmons/Harris), by no later than July 1, 2022, the State Board of Education shall make available to schools resource materials developed in consultation with stakeholders regarding hairstyles, including hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity, or hair texture, including, but not limited to, protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists. The State Board of Education shall make the resource materials available on its Internet website.