Knoxville barbers disagree with lawsuit challenging education requirements

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A lawsuit in Tennessee is calling into question barbers’ educations, specifically the degree they receive before they’re licensed to work.

The Beacon Center, an organization focusing on public policy, recently filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barbers Examiners. They’re representing a Memphis aspiring barber, Elias Zarate.

Zarate does not have a high school diploma, which is a prerequisite to become a licensed professional. The organization argues a required diploma or GED is unconstitutional.

“This is bigger than any dream I’ve ever had for myself,” said Tyler Trotter.

He’s owned Clean Cut Grooming Lounge in South Knoxville for several years now. Trotter has his GED. 

“I had the knowledge. I just wasn’t doing the work in school,” he said.

Current Tennessee law requires a master barber to have a high school diploma, a GED, or HiSET diploma.

“It seems like a sound metric system to gauge a qualified person,” said Trotter.

He says this education requirement from the state is practical and lays a good foundation. 

“Because when you go to barber or cosmetology school, it’s not just about doing haircuts. It’s not about how to make people look good, there’s a lot of advanced anatomy that you have to remember. There’s a lot of dermatology and a lot of different diseases and possible infections that are things required for you to learn about.”

Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance says before the passage of this law in 2015, a master barber was required to have a 10th grade education or the equivalent.

Anthony Arenivar has been a licensed barber for eight months and thinks having a diploma should be a requirement. 

“You want to have these obstacles to push yourself forward, to keep pushing toward your initial goal,” he said.

Arenivar says high school taught him studying tools that he carried into barber school. 

“It sets a standard and it also sets us apart,” said Arenivar.

Trotter says he uses the tools he learned in high school today as a small business owner.

“We don’t want to disqualify anyone from becoming licensed, but we take a lot of pride in our industry and we want to make sure that it is regulated to a degree where we can uphold the integrity of the business,” he said.

Under Tenn. Code Ann. 62-4-122(a)(2), state law requires that a person must have completed and passed at least two years of high school or received at least a score of 38 percent on the GED or HiSET examination to enroll in cosmetology school. Becoming licensed as a cosmetology instructor requires a high school diploma under state law, but not licensure as a cosmetologist.

The Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barbers Examiners falls under Tennessee’s Department of Commerce and Insurance. The state says they have no statement regarding the ongoing litigation or the reason behind the change, adding it was made by the general assembly.

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