When it comes to finding low-maintenance hairstyles for our children that are school-appropriate, it’s beginning to seem we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Last week, a video of a first-grader in Florida being turned away from his first day of school because of his dreadlocks sparked viral outrage and discussion; this week, a similar scenario is playing out—with a decidedly different twist.
As reported by New Orleans’ ABC affiliate WGNO—coincidentally taglined “News with a Twist”—a student at Terrytown, La. parochial middle school Christ the King was sent home because of her braided hair extensions, as the school’s policy states that “only the students’ natural hair is permitted,” applying equally to female and male students.
A viral video of the incident has been making the rounds on social media, in which the student in question—wearing a simple, pulled back and age-appropriate braided hairstyle—sobs as the adults around her debate the appropriateness of her hair.
To make matters worse, this was the second time the child was sent home within the space of a week. After telling the student and her mother that her hair wasn’t in compliance prior to the start of school last week, school administrators told WGNO the mother “agreed to change her child’s hair in order to comply with the policy.”
“She made an appointment with a hair stylist to do so. The child had her hair redone on Friday of last week and reported to school today,” Archdiocese Catholic Schools Superintendent RaeNell Billiot Houston told the station. “The new hair style was still not in compliance with the new hairstyle policy. At that point, the parent made the decision to remove her child from the school.”
Like A Book’s Christian Academy in Apopka, Fla., which turned away the dreadlocked first grader, Christ the King is a private religious school, and therefore emboldened by the archdiocese to dictate the terms of its students’ grooming. However, what both of these incidences and others like them demonstrate is a profound cultural insensitivity when it comes to the needs and traditions of students and families of color.
Aside from the obvious cultural relevance that dreadlocks and braids hold within black culture, for many parents, locs and braided hairstyles—with or without the use of extensions—are a low-maintenance means of both protecting the hair and creating ease of styling for their children, making it more efficient to get them to school on time and keep the focus on their schoolwork both in and out of school. And yet, words like “distracting” and “disruptive” have been used by school administrators to justify policing hairstyles that are traditional within our communities.
But what can be more disruptive than telling a child that they are somehow unacceptable and restricting them from getting an education until they are in “compliance” with cultural norms never intended to include them in the first place? One can’t help but wonder about the origin of Christ the King’s “new” policy, and if it would apply if the child had arrived at school with relaxed hair. Are they even aware of what the term “natural” hair means in our communities?
Yes, rules are rules—but the presence of a rule doesn’t inherently make it fair, or even reasonable. The continued lack of compassion for cultural differences by school administrators is telling, and ultimately alarming in its implications for what other biases may come into play while educating students of color. The fact that it may take social media to drive this point home to schools with so-called Christian values—and not a sobbing middle schooler or a crestfallen 6-year-old—is the cruelest irony of all.