High School Senior Is Given An Ultimatum: Suspension Or Cut Off His Dreadlocks

It was January 2020 when DeAndre Arnold returned to Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, after winter break. Only, he returned to something strange, a change in the school’s dress code policy. To the senior’s surprise, his dreadlocks were now in violation of the policy, and he was being given an ultimatum: cut them or be suspended.

After a lot of media coverage, none other than Ellen DeGeneres caught wind of the young man’s situation, inviting him to her talk show. Little did Arnold know, but he was about to be surprised with an unbelievable gift. Read on to learn about his journey and the shocking gift.

DeAndre Arnold’s Hair Was In Violation Of His School’s Dress Code

DeAndre Arnold's Hair Was In Violation Of His School's Dress Code
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

It was 2020 when DeAndre Arnold hit a lot of major news site headlines. He was being threatened with an in-school suspension for an odd reason, one a lot of people thought was ridiculous and couldn’t help but roll their eyes at the administration.

See, the young man refused to trim his dreadlocks, something that violated his school’s dress code. The suspension wasn’t what surprised Arnold, though, it was his invitation to be on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the host’s amazing surprise at the end of the segment.

DeAndre Was About To Be Thrown A Curveball

DeAndre Was About To Be Thrown A Curveball
Sandy Arnold/Facebook
Sandy Arnold/Facebook

DeAndre Arnold was a resident of Mont Belvieu, Texas. And as a senior in high school, he was preparing for the next journey of his life and hanging out with all of his friends before college took them out of town and maybe even out of state.

Unfortunately, for the young adult, his plans were thrown off course. Little did Arnold know, but when he returned from winter break in 2020, his school was going to throw him the ultimate curveball.

His Hair Was Never An Issue Before Winter Break

His Hair Was Never An Issue Before Winter Break
VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images
VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

Arnold had attended Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, all four years of his high school career. And in those years, his dreadlock hairstyle had never changed. So, to say he was surprised to be called out by teachers upon his return to school after winter break is a bit of an understatement.

Trying his best to adhere to the dress code policy of his school, Arnold always tied his hair back, and it was never an issue. So what had changed in the few weeks, the school was closed?

Arnold Had An Ultimatum Thrown His Way

Arnold Had An Ultimatum Thrown His Way
VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images
VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

The dress code policy had been revised over the school’s winter break. And with the new rules came a new hairstyle policy. So, Arnold had an ultimatum thrown his way, either he had to cut off his dreadlocks or be suspended from school.

Arnold refused to cut his dreadlocks off. And while many might think being suspended is a bit more drastic than getting a new haircut, Arnold had a good explanation for his decision. And more importantly, he stuck to by his choice.

DeAndre Had A Great Reason For Not Wanting To Cut His Hair

DeAndre Had A Great Reason For Not Wanting To Cut His Hair
Sandy Arnold/Facebook
Sandy Arnold/Facebook

Before we discuss the senior’s big television debut on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, we’re going to dive into his decision. Considering the alternative to cutting his hair was being suspended, one would hope the young man had an excellent reason for not following the school’s new dress code.

Thankfully, Arnold’s reasoning for not adhering to the rules is very straightforward, and no one could argue with his response. Well, no one except the administration who was ready to suspend him for it.

His Dreadlocks Are Cultural

His Dreadlocks Are Cultural
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

Arnold had a very good reason for not wanting to cut off his dreadlocks. His father is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, a dual-island nation located in the Caribbean. There, it is common practice for citizens to grow and maintain dreadlocks.

Wanting to follow the cultural tradition, Arnold adopted the hairstyle and has rocked the look for many years. So, when he was told he had to cut them off, of course, he was going to have some questions.

Arnold Wanted Nothing More Than To Embrace His Culture

Arnold Wanted Nothing More Than To Embrace His Culture
Felicia Jane Thomas/Facebook
Felicia Jane Thomas/Facebook

Since his suspension, Arnold has opened up about wanting to follow in his dad’s path, representing his Trinidadian roots by sporting dreadlocks. During an interview with KPRC in January 2020, Arnold explained his reasoning, saying, “I really like that part of Trinidadian culture. So, I mean, I really embrace that.”

Still, he didn’t know his hair was going to cause such an uproar, or that he was going to get suspended his senior year for not cutting his hair. But before that, Arnold was respectful of his school’s dress code.

He Respected The Previous Dress Code

He Respected The Previous Dress Code
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

Even before the chaos his hair caused, Arnold was cautious to respect his school’s dress code. So, he would tie his dreadlocks back in order to keep them from falling in his face. That solution seemed to appease the teachers. And it helped that Arnold was a good student.

He was getting good grades and was on track to starting his future after high school. In fact, the young man had a plan for what he wanted to do after college.

Arnold Had A Game Plan For After High School

Arnold Had A Game Plan For After High School
Felicia Jane Thomas/Facebook
Felicia Jane Thomas/Facebook

Arnold really wanted to become a veterinarian, something that was achievable with his grades and work ethic. If everything went according to plan, Arnold would get into a good college and work towards his veterinary degree. Yet, despite all of the hard work he put into school, the universe had something else in store.

The tables turned in the early part of 2020 when he and his fellow classmates walked through the doors of Barbers Hill High School after their winter break came to a close.

After Break, He Learned Of The New Policy

After Break, He Learned Of The New Policy
Felicia Jane Thomas/Facebook
Felicia Jane Thomas/Facebook

When the students came back from break, it was to learn that the administration had changed some of the stipulations in the dress code policy. One of the alterations in the code was how long male students were allowed to have their hair.

As you can imagine, Arnold’s hair exceeded the “appropriate” length, according to the school’s rules. But Arnold wasn’t going to go and cut his dreadlocks off without talking to someone about the rule first.

The New Hair Code Was As Follows:

The New Hair Code Was As Follows:
Sandy Arnold/Facebook
Sandy Arnold/Facebook

The dress code policy specifically said, “Male students’ hair will not extend, at any time, below the eyebrows or below the earlobes. Male students’ hair must not extend below the top of a T-shirt collar or be gathered or worn in a style that would allow the hair to extend below the top of a T-shirt collar, below the eyebrows or below the earlobes when let down.”

Amazingly, in 2020, this type of dress code is still being enforced by some schools. But Arnold wasn’t going down without a fight.

Arnold Was Confused, He Hadn’t Changed His Hair In Years

Arnold Was Confused, He Hadn't Changed His Hair In Years
Sandy Arnold/Facebook
Sandy Arnold/Facebook

Due to the last sentence in the policy, Arnold was now in violation of the dress code. It perplexed the senior, considering he hadn’t actually changed his hairstyle in years. Now, a few words were dictating the way he had to wear his hair.

During his interview with KPRC, Arnold explained his initial reaction. And, honestly, if the young man decided veterinary school wasn’t for him, he might want to think about a career in criminal justice because his argument was sound.

The New Policy Made No Sense To Arnold

The New Policy Made No Sense To Arnold
Sandy Arnold/Facebook
Sandy Arnold/Facebook

During his interview, Arnold said, “[The school] say that even though my hair is up and I follow all of the regulations, that if it was down, it would be out of dress code. Not that I’m out of dress code, but if I was to take it down, I would be out of dress code, which doesn’t make any sense. I don’t take it down at school.”

If Arnold never took his hair down during school, it seems kind of silly he was getting called out by teachers and being threatened with suspension.

It Was Time For Arnold To Make a Tough Decision

It Was Time For Arnold To Make a Tough Decision
Sandy Arnold/Facebook
Sandy Arnold/Facebook

A few teachers told Arnold that he had to trim his dreadlocks because they were in violation of the school’s dress code. But the senior ignored their demands, wearing his hair up as he had the past few years in the very same school.

Of course, that stance wasn’t going to work for the high school. Arnold was given an ultimatum. If he wanted to continue to have his beloved long hair, Arnold was going to have to make a tough decision.

Arnold Was Looking At Missing His Graduation

Arnold Was Looking At Missing His Graduation
Felicia Jane Thomas/Facebook
Felicia Jane Thomas/Facebook

The school’s ultimatum for Arnold was to trim his dreadlocks to an appropriate length, or he was going to have to serve in-school suspension (ISS). Both options aren’t exactly what someone would call ideal, but he had to make a decision.

This meant that Arnold might have to complete his schooling at an “alternative school,” since ISS would put him behind. And he was also being told he would be barred from his graduation ceremony if he didn’t trim his hair.

Sandy Arnold Was Not Happy With Her Son’s School

Sandy Arnold Was Not Happy With Her Son's School
Sandy Arnold/Facebook
Sandy Arnold/Facebook

After Arnold was given the ultimatum, his mother, Sandy, had a few things to say. During a January 2020 interview with ABC News, Sandy said, “I refuse to send [DeAndre] to ISS [because] he hasn’t done anything wrong. [I’m angry that the school] never called me because DeAndre was being disrespectful or because of his grades, but because of his hair.”

Considering Arnold had great grades and was on a great track towards graduation, it’s amazing that the school decided to single him out for nothing more than his hair length.

Sandy Stood Being Her Son The Entire Way

Sandy Stood Being Her Son The Entire Way
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

But Sandy wasn’t done voicing her opinion. When asked if she would cut his dreadlocks, Sandy replied to KPRC, saying, “Absolutely not. This is his belief. This is a part of who he is. This is his culture. This is what we believe. So absolutely not; I’m not going to cut his hair.”

She made it very clear that she believed the school was in the wrong, and that she stood behind her son whole-heartedly. But Sandy wasn’t the only one who was distraught over the situation.

The Superintendent Had A Few Words To Say

The Superintendent Had A Few Words To Say
Google Maps
Google Maps

Granted, he’s on the other side of the event, but the superintendent of Barbers Hill High School, Greg Poole, had a few things to say about the situation. In a statement he released to the school, Poole made it clear that the staff wasn’t going to be pressured into bending the rules for a single student.

His statement said, “Our board of trustees, which has included African-American representation, takes their role of representing our local community as one of their chief priorities. We allow any legally accepted religious or medical exemptions to our dress code. [We] have allowed such exemptions in the past.”

Sandy Made A Rash Decision

Sandy Made A Rash Decision
Sandy Arnold/Facebook
Sandy Arnold/Facebook

But Poole wasn’t done. He added, “We will continue to be a child-centered district that seeks to maximize the potential of every child. Local control is sacred to this country, and we will not be bullied or intimidated by outside influences.”

With the school not backing down on their dress code policy and the issue regarding Arnold’s hair, Sandy made a rash decision. She decided to pull her son out of the school, even though it was his senior year.

Sandy Wanted To Make It Known This Wasn’t Just About Her Son

Sandy Wanted To Make It Known This Wasn't Just About Her Son
Sandy Arnold/Facebook
Sandy Arnold/Facebook

Like Poole, Sandy wasn’t stopping with pulling her son from the school; she was threatening a lawsuit against the institution. During an interview with KHOU-TV, the mom explained her reasoning, saying, “We’re here for DeAndre, but it’s about more than that. This is about all the other DeAndres that could come through Barbers Hill.”

With all of the media surrounding Arnold’s school situation, he garnered a lot of attention. But there was one person he never thought would catch wind of what was happening to him.

Ellen DeGeneres Caught Wind Of The Story

Ellen DeGeneres Caught Wind Of The Story
Steve Granitz/WireImage
Steve Granitz/WireImage

Of all the people to catch wind of Arnold’s story, one just so happened to be Ellen DeGeneres. The talk show host was moved by Arnold’s story and wanted to get in touch with him. To Arnold’s surprise, she didn’t just want to speak with him but wanted to invite him to be on her show.

Of course, the young man agreed. He was excited to discuss everything that happened to him at his old school, hoping no one will have to go through the same type of experience.

They Got Into Some Deep Topics

They Got Into Some Deep Topics
TheEllenShow/youTube
TheEllenShow/youTube

Like she’s done so many other times, Ellen sat Arnold down on one of the plush white chairs on the stage of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. But the talk show host made it very clear from the get-go that this wasn’t going to be like one of her normal shows.

Ellen was planning on diving into some deep topics of gender standards and how school rules seem to be a bit hypocritical when it comes to its various rules. Of course, she starts off asking Arnold to start from the beginning of his story.

The First Question: Was The Dress Code The Same For ALL?

The First Question: Was The Dress Code The Same For ALL?
Christopher Polk/KCA2016/Getty Images for Nickelodeon
Christopher Polk/KCA2016/Getty Images for Nickelodeon

To start the show, Ellen made certain Arnold was comfortable in front of the camera. Then, she asked Arnold to explain to his situation and how it all began. The two discussed what happened in January 2020, with Arnold bringing up the old and new dress code policy.

Now, this is where it becomes very interesting, as Ellen brings up the double standard of male and female student hair length. Her question was simple, was the hair length policy the same for all of the students?

Male And Female Students Were Not Held To The Same Standards

Male And Female Students Were Not Held To The Same Standards
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

In response to Ellen’s question, Arnold said, “There’s plenty of girls with long hair at my school. Like, if girls can have long hair, why can’t I?” This drew out a huge round of applause from Ellen’s live studio audience.

Ellen seemed to agree with the senior, saying, “I just personally think you should be able to wear your hair however you want. Especially if there are girls with long hair.” But Ellen was just getting started with her questioning.

Arnold Discussed his Family’s Heritage And Culture

Arnold Discussed his Family's Heritage And Culture
Sandy Arnold/Facebook
Sandy Arnold/Facebook

After getting the rundown of what happened at Barbers Hill High School, Ellen asked Arnold to explain the cultural significance behind his dreadlocks. With a smile on his face, Arnold went on to talk about his heritage and his father.

But he also took this time to throw some shade at his school for giving him the drastic ultimatum of ISS or trimming his hair. Both, of which, were not fair, given the male and female double standard in the dress code policy, not to mention the cultural significance behind the style.

Ellen Agreed With Arnold’s Reasoning

Ellen Agreed With Arnold's Reasoning
GP Images/Getty Images for TINEPUBLIC
GP Images/Getty Images for TINEPUBLIC

Arnold explained to Ellen about his hairstyle, saying, “My hair is really important to me because my dad is from Trinidad. And you know, it’s part of our culture and our heritage. I really wish [that] the school would be open to other cultures and just let us tell [them] some things. Don’t just shut us out.”

Ellen responded, saying, “Yeah, I think that’s what school’s supposed to do is teach you about other cultures. You’re not supposed to teach them! They’re supposed to teach you.” And the teaching is nothing compared to the ultimatum the administration gave Arnold.

Ellen Didn’t Appreciate The Ultimatum

Ellen Didn't Appreciate The Ultimatum
Kevin Winter/Tonight Show/Getty Images for The Tonight Show
Kevin Winter/Tonight Show/Getty Images for The Tonight Show

Arnold explained to Ellen that his school gave his two choices: trim his dreadlocks, or he was going to have to serve an in-school suspension. Oh, or he was going to have to go to an “alternative school.” With the confused look on Ellen’s face, Arnold went on to explain what an alternative school consisted of.

He said, “Alternative school is where all the kids that have behavioral issues, sell drugs [and] fight all the time [are sent].” Of course, Arnold is a nice kid and doesn’t think less of the kids who go to those types of schools.

Arnold Wanted To Graduate For His Parents

Arnold Wanted To Graduate For His Parents
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Arnold continued his discussion on alternative schools with Ellen, saying, “I wish the best for [those kids]. And I know they have good qualities in them, but I don’t deserve to be grouped with them. I’ve worked [to graduate high school] all my life. I’ve strived for this. I deserve this moment to walk across [the] stage and enter into life.”

But he also wanted to make his parents proud since they’ve been with him the entire way, supporting him through his high school career and his dreams of becoming a veterinarian.

Ellen Made A Huge On-Air Statement

Ellen Made A Huge On-Air Statement
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

“My parents deserve this,” Arnold said. “Like, they’re the ones who, you know, they got me through anything. And they just taught me everything. They deserve to see me walk across the stage [and graduate].” Of course, Ellen was very moved by the young man’s statement and college dreams, so much so that she made an on-air request of her own.

Looking into the camera, Ellen said, “I am begging you. This kid is a good kid. He deserves to graduate, to walk with all the other kids. He’s a good guy. I am just urging you to do the right thing. Please. Change your mind!”

Alicia Keys Walked Out With A Shocking Gift

Alicia Keys Walked Out With A Shocking Gift
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

But the plea from Ellen on his behalf wasn’t the biggest surprise to come Arnold’s way. Following Ellen’s statement, singer and musician Alicia Key’s walked across the stage with a large piece of cardboard, leaving Arnold star-struck and speechless. After giving her own kind words to the senior, Keys revealed what was on the board.

In big, bold font was a check made out to DeAndre Arnold for $20,000! The money was to go towards his college fund and to help him follow his veterinary dreams. Arnold was at a loss for words, naturally. We can only hope he was able to graduate alongside his fellow students.