Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Boston is receiving some backlash after issuing detentions to two 15-year-old students, Deanna and Mia Cook. Were they fighting, cheating on a test, or bullying – the answer is no. These students were punished for wearing their hair in braids as seen in the picture. Not only were they suspended for their traditional African-American hairstyle – they are now facing potential suspension, for alleged hair code violations.
The school’s says that braids are a violation of the dress code. To add insult to injury, according to the Boston Globe, Alexander Dan, the school’s interim director, says that their policy is to “minimize fashion expenses for families whose children attend the school,” in addition he goes on to say,
“The specific prohibition of 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 an educational environment, one that celebrates all that students have in common and minimizes material differences and distractions.”
Deanna Cook believes that the policy that got her detention is a racist policy. She added,
“What they’re saying is we can’t wear extensions, and the people who wear extensions are black people. They wear them as braids to protect their hair and they’re not allowing us to do that.”
The attention that has been brought to the school because of the suspension of the Cook twins, has led to organizations taking a look at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School as a whole. The Project Director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, Matthew Cregor, issued a letter to the school explaining that the policy may “violate federal anti-discrimination laws,” based on guidelines from the U.S. departments of Justice and Education. In Cregor’s letter, he details the following:
“This civil rights guidance is directly relevant to your school’s discriminatory treatment of the Cook twins for three reasons: First, the parents in today’s article expressed concern that white students who dye their hair are not facing the same consequences as black students with braids or extensions. This is especially troubling as your policy does not even discuss suspending students for hair/makeup violations, something that the article suggests has happened.
Second, unlike the jewelry and nail polish prohibited in your code, braids and extensions are worn primarily by African-American and Afro-Caribbean students, raising concerns of discriminatory treatment. Third, it is hard to understand how braiding, a deep-rooted cultural practice of people of African descent, can be put in the same category as the ‘drastic and unnatural hair colors’ your code prohibits as ‘distracting.”
In addition to the school’s policies, Mystic Valley’s hiring practices are also coming into question. According to U.S. News and World Report, out of 156 teachers, only one of these teachers is black. 43 percents of the children at Mystic Valley are people of color, and 17 percent of those students are black.
School administrators insist that they only want to focus on,“what unites our students and reduce visible gaps between those of different means.” Today, many are asking is punishing a student because they choose to wear their hair in a protective, traditional style really the answer; or is this a perfect example of what African Americans have been complaining about for years regarding discrimination and the school to prison pipeline?