I wake up to a full inbox daily, usually full of work emails, newsletters and spam. The usual. This morning however I woke up to an email from one of the students from Mystic Valley Regional Charter in Malden Massachusetts, Deonna, who wanted her story told.
Students at the Malden school who wear hair extensions* have faced daily detentions, got kicked out of teams and been banned from prom by the school administrators who say that the hairstyle could highlight economic diferences among students because of the cost of the style. However there have been suggestions that the policy only affects black students.
From the Boston Globe:
More than 40 percent of the school’s students are people of color, but state education data show Mystic Valley has just one black teacher on a staff of about 170. Those records also show that black students at Mystic Valley were more than twice as likely last year to be suspended for any infraction compared with white students.
The school’s desire to erase economic differences among students — to, in effect, create a level playing field — is reasonable, said Tomiko Brown-Nagin, a Harvard Law School professor who teaches education law and policy. But such policies, she said, can rub up against the equally reasonable imperative to be non-discriminatory.
I’m surprised that we are still getting stories like this coming out of schools where we hope that the minds of tomorrow are being shaped. Its was also shocking to hear that all black students were marched out of class for a hair inspection and each was asked if they were wearing hair extensions* even when they visibly weren’t. The obvious ignorance of this action is flooring in this day and age. It’s not a long jump from ignorance to racism.
17-year-old junior Jordan Towle-Jackson said she had encountered racial ignorance from some students and indifference from the school administrators.
“There have been racist comments, and when I went to the school’s director, he basically told me to go make a club to try and fix it,” she said.
Leaders of the state’s Anti-Defamation League, a non profit group that fights anti-semetism and other expressions of hate, had scheduled a phone conference on Friday with the school’s interim director, Alexander Dan, after the parents of the Cook twins asked for help. The director did not call at the alloted time and instead received a one line email with an attached statement that was released to parents.
Adminstrators said that their rules on appearance are consistently enforced even though in an interview one of the students said that they hadn’t been enforced until now. Part of the statement read:
They are designed to permit students to focus their attentions on academics and on those aspects of their personalities that are truly important.
The specific prohibition on hair extensions*, which are expensive and could serve as a differentiating factor between students from dissimilar socioeconomic backgrounds, is consistent with our desire to create such an educational environment, one that celebrates all that our students have in common and minimizes material differences and distractions.
A 17 year old junior said that the dress code was almost impossible to follow for black students because the school rules also prohibit hair that is more than 2 inches in thickness or height. A roundabout way of saying that natural black hair is not allowed…
Mya Cook, Deanna’s twin sister both 15 year old sophomores have refused to give up their extensions* and served multiple detentions as a result. She says that her hairstyle is not hurting anyone.
Why call me out instead of calling out these Caucasian girls who have dyed their hair and don’t get in trouble at all?” Cook said. “You have to stand up for what you believe in, that’s the only way things change.
When we look at braids in particular, while I will not deny that some braided styles can cost hundred of dollars, we know that in practice most of us don’t spend that much. Once the extensinos are purchased, usually for under $30 and depending on where the braids are installed, the true cost of the style is anywhere between $50-$100 but over the course of 2-3 month period when the braids are worn the true cost of the style is $17-$33 per month which is very much on par with any other hairstyle.
It angers me that 15 year old kids are having to deal with this kind of thing at school instead of thinking about their studies. I can understand the idea of wanting to create an even playing field amounts students but when those policies create a disparity based on race then it needs to be changed immediately.
What are your thoughts?