Parents at a top-performing Massachusetts charter school are fuming after claiming their students were singled out and disciplined for refusing to take out their braids. The school, Mystic Valley Regional Charter in Malden, Mass., said its hair policy, which prohibits “distracting” styles including hair color and extensions, is meant to “promote equity by focusing on what unites our students and reducing visible gaps between those of different means.” According to a statement by school officials, hair extensions, which apparently includes braided styles with added hair, “tend to be very expensive” and could make students who can’t afford them uncomfortable.
Colleen Cook, the mother of 15-year-old twins, isn’t buying the school’s explanation. In the past week, Colleen’s daughters have been hit with daily detention — before and after school — and threatened with suspension if they continue to refuse to remove their braids. While she loves the high-quality education the school provides, she thinks they need to step up their cultural sensitivity. “They teach them at a very high academic level and I appreciate that, and that’s why they go to the school,” Colleen told the Boston Globe. “But, unfortunately, they don’t have any sensitivity to diversity at all.”
Maya Cook, a sophomore at Mystic Valley, said other students have worn braids in the past, so the school’s reaction to her hair caught her off guard.
“I was kind of shocked because for years everyone has been able to wear braids,” she said. But after she and her sister got their hair done at a local salon, they were singled out and questioned about their hair when they returned to school.
Deanna Cook, who’s been banned from the track team since refusing to remove the style, said the school’s policy is anti-black. “It makes me feel like my culture and my hair was not important enough to be represented around the school,” she said.
While the school is sticking by its claim that its policy is colorblind, Colleen told local reporters that her daughters, as well as the other black and biracial girls with braids, were pulled aside and questioned about their hair.
“All the little black children were marched down for a hair inspection, whether they had braids or not, and asked, ‘are those extensions’ ‘are your braids real or not?’” Colleen told Fox 25 News.
In a statement about the incident, Alexander J. Dan, Mystic Valley’s Interim School Director, said the following:
“The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School serves a diverse student population from surrounding communities that include Everett, Medford and Malden, among other cities. The school consistently ranks among the top schools in Massachusetts in MCAS testing, SAT testing and college admissions. We send students from all walks of life, including those of color and those from limited means, to the best colleges and universities in the nation,” he wrote.
“One important reason for our students’ success is that we purposefully promote equity by focusing on what unites our students and reducing visible gaps between those of different means. Our policies, including those governing student appearance and attire, foster a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion or materialism. Our policy on hair extensions, which tend to be very expensive, is consistent with, and a part of, the educational environment that we believe is so important to our students’ success.”
While the school’s policy may have been written to erase differences among students, it’s yet another example of an institution trying to #AllLivesMatter its way to equality and missing the point that for many women and girls, especially black women and girls, hair is not just hair, it’s an expression of their cultural identity that they’re willing to fight to protect. Last year, teen girls in South Africa led a protest after their school banned afros, and after the army attempted to ban natural hairstyles like locs, women in the military spoke up and out, leading to a change in the policy.
Instead of making everyone feel equal by writing one set of rules that applies to all students, by refusing to take cultural differences into account, Mystic Valley’s hair policy does not make all students feel comfortable, but rather makes some feel like they aren’t welcomed at all.
Photo Courtesy of Facebook/Boston 25 News.
This post originally appeared on TeenVogue.com.
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