PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Peoria stylist Adrienne Jones said ethnic hairstyles like braids, locks, twists and afros are a form of self-expression for Black Americans.

“It represents who we are. In essence, it’s who we are as a people,” said Jones, who owns A Sharp Effect Salon in Peoria.

And as of Jan. 1, the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act prohibits Illinois schools from discriminating against students with those hairstyles.

“I think it’s a huge win for our city and state. We need to be able to focus on things that matter, which is education when we’re in school,” said Jones.

Pastor Marvin Hightower, president of NAACP Peoria, said it’s a step in the right direction.

“They can discover their purpose and be there for what they’re there for, not judged on their hairstyle,” he said.

Instead of focusing on hair, Hightower said students can focus on learning to become productive members of society.

“The most important thing is what they’re going to school for, which is to get their education. So that they can become leaders in the community so that they can be who they need to be,” he said.

Peoria County Regional Superintendent Beth Crider applauded the move. She said it’s not an educator’s role to weigh in on students’ hairstyles in the first place.

“When students present at school, and how they choose to wear their hair isn’t our concern. This is just saying that we as a school are not going to discriminate based on your choices,” said Crider.

If a school violates the CROWN Act, the Illinois Board of Education could withhold state funding.