Black Students Punished At Massachusetts Charter School Over Box Braids

When schools make their students wear uniforms, one of the reasons they do so is in order to unify students, making attire less of a distraction. But is uniformity not only necessary when it comes to uniforms, but also when it comes to hairstyles?

That’s what the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, Massachusetts seems to think. They’ve punished students, including twins Deanna and Mya Cook, for wearing box braids. The 15-year-olds have been hit with multiple detentions and even removed from everything from prom to the track team over them. Their parents worried that the detentions would lead to suspension, so not only did they start keeping the girls from serving them, but they also decided to protest the school’s stance on braids in the dress code, which they deem racist.

“They teach them at a very high academic level and I appreciate that, and that’s why they go to the school,” the girls’ mother, Colleen Cook, said to the Boston Globe. “But, unfortunately, they don’t have any sensitivity to diversity at all.”

Mystic Valley Regional Charter School believes that braids throw a wrench in their attempts to focus “on what unites our students.” They believe such styles could create negative conversations about social class, in particular, at what means students live.

“Our policies, including those governing student appearance and attire, foster a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion, or materialism,” the school’s statement reads. “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.”

For the record, the school’s student handbook prohibits hair extensions in general, along with hair coloring, makeup, tattoos, and even nail polish.

But Colleen Cook said that the stance on extensions, particularly braided ones, which were cracked down on more than ever after spring break, is an attack on students of color. Cook said the braids give her daughters pride. “They want to partake in their culture.”

And if being banned from prom and extracurricular sports wasn’t enough, another student was even suspended. Such extreme measures have caused Cook to reach out to the Anti-Defamation League, the attorney general’s office as well as the NAACP. However, according to Boston’s local CBS affiliate, Mystic Valley has refused to meet with the Anti-Defamation League. But state education officials are set to discuss this contentious policy with the school’s officials. Also, the ACLU of Massachusetts has filed a complaint against the school:

In a statement, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice called out the policy, and even requested records to see the number of students of color impacted by this particular dress code.

“Denying young black women their opportunity to express their cultural identity will not make the school safer, more orderly, or less ‘distracting,’” the committee said.

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