Massachusetts Senate Passes The CROWN Act

mother and daughter

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BOSTON (WBZNewsRadio) - A bill that would ban discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles in workplaces, schools and public spaces has been unanimously approved by the Massachusetts Senate.

The vote comes just two weeks after the Massachusetts House approved a similar bill.

Lawmakers in the Massachusetts House and Senate now have to come up with a single version of the bill before taking a final vote and shipping it to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature. If signed into law, Massachusetts would become the 15th state to adopt the measure, known as the CROWN Act.

Supporters of the bill say Black women in particular have faced pressure in school and in the workplace to change their hair to conform to policies biased against natural hairstyles.

During her inaugural speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Lydia Edwards, who is Black, said the bill not only prohibits discrimination against Black women, but "is finally a statement that Black women have needed to hear for so long."

The Senate added a provision to the House version of the bill that would include the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association to the list of school entities banned from adopting and implementing restrictions on natural hairstyles.

Advocates say the change will ensure those participating in sports and extracurricular activities will not be asked to change their natural or protective hairstyles in order to participate.

The bill partly stems from a 2017 dispute between the Cook family of Malden and the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School. Mya and Deanna Cook, two Black 15-year-old students at the school, wore their hair in braids with extensions to school and were informed that their hair violated he school's "Hair/Make-Up" policy. When the Cook sisters refused to remove their extensions, the school punished the girls with detention and threatened to suspend them.

The incident gained a lot of attention and the sisters were shown support by students, parents, community groups, along with the Massachusetts Charter School Association and the Massachusetts Attorney General, who wrote school officials a letter saying it's rules were discriminatory and in violation of state and federal laws. By the end of the school year, the school's trustees lifted the rule.

The U.S. House also approved a bill in March that would bar discrimination against Black people who wear their hair in styles like Afros, cornrows or tightly coiled twists in public places, school and the workplace, The federal bill would explicitly say that such discrimination is a violation of federal civil rights law.

President Joe Biden has said in the past he would sign the bill into law, it now heads to the U.S. Senate.

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