African-American teenage twins attending a Massachusetts charter school are being punished for wearing their hair in braids.
Their parents say the school’s policy around how students are permitted to wear their hair is discriminatory, and unfairly targets black students.
Maya and Deanna Cook, sophomores at the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School outside of Boston, were issued detention and told they couldn’t participate on their school’s sports teams after they returned from spring break with professionally braided hair, their father, Aaron Cook, told the Daily News.
The charter school’s strict hair policy is detailed in its parent/student handbook.
“Students may not wear drastic or unnatural hair colors or styles such as shaved lines or shaved sides or have a hairstyle that could be distracting to other students (extra-long hair or hair more than 2 inch in thickness or height is not allowed.) This means no coloring, dying, lightening (sun-in) or streaking of any sort.”
It also bans hair extensions, which Cook called racist.
“When we read that part of the policy, we felt it unjustly impacted our daughters and unjustly impacted the population of colored people going to that school,” he said. “You don’t often see Caucasian females wearing extensions.”
A school-issued statement said its policies “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.”
Cook noted that more than 50% of the school’s students are minorities and said his daughters aren’t the only students being picked on.
“There are kids who are being rounded up and marched downstairs for daily hair inspections and the girls don’t really understand why they are treating them this way,” Cook said.
School administrators have humiliated the girls in front of their peers too, Cook said.
Deanna, a track athlete, was on her way to a meet when the school’s athletic director pulled her off the team bus and banned her from competing.
“They are being socially ostracized,” Cook said.
Over the course of their 11 years at the school (they’ve attended since kindergarten), the Cook twins have worn a variety of hairstyles.
Before it was braided, it had been chemically straightened, Cook said. The school had no qualms with the straight hairstyle, even though it was technically unnatural.
“It was not flagged as a violation of the policy because it looked more caucasian,” Cook said.
Cook said extra hair was woven in to strengthen their natural locks during the hair braiding process, which violates the no hair extensions part of the uniform policy, even though there are no clips that can be removed from their scalps.
One of his daughters has hair that in its natural state is an afro, which Cook thinks would violate the school’s hair policy too.
The twins were issued six hours of detention each for their “uniform infractions.”
“Every day administrators will come into class and pull them out to hand them a letter,” he said.
He has sought out administrators to talk about the policy — to no avail. “The boss said the board of directors sets the policy and the policy is equitably applied to all students.”
Still, he’d like to come to an agreement that works for both the school and the families it serves. He’ll continue to fight for his daughters — and their classmates.
“I’m going to continue applying pressure. This has grown bigger than our twins and now we feel like we have taken on this battle for all kids attending school. Even if the girls get suspended or expelled we won’t stop fighting. The policy has to change.”