Ellen DeGeneres is doing what she can to support a teenager who says his school district told him he would have to cut his dreadlocks in order to walk in his high school graduation.
DeAndre Arnold, a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, appeared on Wednesday’s episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where he was not only met with support but was also gifted a $20,000 scholarship to college.
“I want you to just relax and know that I’m here for you,” DeGeneres, 62, told Arnold. “Because I don’t understand this.”
“You get good grades. You’ve never been in trouble, ever. This is the first time anything has come up. And now you haven’t been in school for weeks because of this situation,” DeGeneres continued.
“Every day I would go to school, I would always be in dress code,” Arnold explained. “But the thing with them is, if it was let down, I would be out of dress code. And this issue really escalated about after Christmas break.”
That’s when DeGeneres chimed into asking “Are there girls in your school?” to which Arnold simply responded, “Oh, yeah.”
“And do the girls have long hair?” DeGeneres asked.
“There’s plenty of girls with long hair at my school,” Arnold said, adding “If girls can have long hair, why can’t I have long hair.”
“That’s my point. That’s what I don’t understand,” DeGeneres said passionately. “I just personally think you should be able to wear your hair however you want.”
Arnold then shared that for him, his dreadlocks are more than just a hairstyle.
“My hair really means — like, it’s really important to me,” Arnold explained. “My dad is from Trinidad and you know, it’s part of our culture and our heritage. I really wish the school would kind of be open to other cultures. At least let us try to tell you some things. Don’t just shut us out.”
“I think that’s what school’s supposed to do, teach you about other cultures,” DeGeneres said.
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However, Arnold revealed it’s not that simple. He shared that if he were to return to school he’d have to complete an in-school suspension or alternative school — a program for delinquent teens. Arnold alleged that he also won’t be allowed to walk in his graduation.
“I’ve worked for this all my life. I deserve this. My parents deserve this. They got me through anything, they taught me everything.”
Arnold later revealed his desire to go to college as he dreams of becoming a veterinarian.
That’s when DeGeneres took a moment to beg Arnold’s school “to do the right thing.”
“He deserves to graduate, to walk with all the other kids,” DeGeneres said, facing the camera.
DeGeneres then welcomed Alicia Keys on to the show, who came bearing a gift for Arnold.
“I’m super proud of you for standing up for what you know is right. I know the school needs to do the right thing. Me and Ellen called our friends at Shutterfly because we know that you’re a special person. And we know you’re destined for such greatness and we wanted to support that greatness and invest in that greatness,” Keys, 39, said.
“So we wanted to present you with a check for $20,000.”
Overwhelmed with gratitude, Arnold hugged Keys and said: “Thank you so much.”
Arnold’s story unfolded earlier this month when he opened up about the alleged incident to CBS This Morning.
His mother, Sandy Arnold, told the news station that after Christmas break and three months before graduation, the school district changed the dress code policy.
“They say that even (when) my hair is up if it were to be down it would be not in compliance with the dress code. However, I don’t take it down in the school,” DeAndre said.
Sandy told CBS This Morning that she believes the lack of diversity in the district is the issue. “There is no people of color on the school board. I get it that they don’t understand his hair,” she said.
Sandy added to KPRC that she attempted to reach out to board members and the superintendent to come to a conclusion together. But she claims she never received a response.
Barbers Hill School District did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.