Imagine this: You escort your son to his first day of first grade, all buttoned up in his brand new uniform and eager to begin the school year, only to be turned away because your child has dreadlocks.
That’s what happened to Clinton Stanley and his son, Clinton Jr., when they arrived for their first day at A Book’s Christian Academy in Apopka, Fla. Upon seeing Clinton Jr.’s head full of dreadlocks, administration officials did the Christian thing and told the Stanleys that the six-year-old would not be able to attend, due to an unseen rule in the school’s handbook that states that all boys’ hair must be cut above the ear.
An emotional video of the incident taken by Stanley Sr. shows that even his request to braid his son’s hair down was met with denial. In fact, the only solution the school would offer in the moment was to allow him to unenroll his child, causing him to miss his first day of school.
As A Book’s is a private academy, they are legally within their rights to enforce a dress code. However, to include a grooming choice as personal and culturally relevant as wearing dreadlocks rightfully raises concerns.
“If a kid has dreadlocks, that’s your personal standard,” Stanley told local news station WESH 2 News. “Meaning, that’s a personal problem you haven’t overcome, because 95 percent of the kids who have dreadlocks are African American.”
But evangelist and school director John Book told WESH that he is “obviously not a racist,” countering that his school is “probably 95 percent black.” He then quoted the famous hymn, “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” emphasizing the phrase “All the children of the world; red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.”
But what A Book’s restrictive dress code indicates is that the cultural expressions of red, yellow, black and white children are not considered equally precious. After all, the school only offered to re-enroll Clinton Jr. under the condition that he cut his hair, an offer the Stanleys wisely declined.
Of course, this is far from the first time we’ve seen a traditionally black hairstyle become an issue in school. Much like the military, American schools both public and private have regularly policed hairstyles like locs, braids and naturals, proclaiming them unsanitary, unruly and even disruptive to the academic environment. In the process, black students have been denied days of learning, proms and even graduation, while repeatedly being given the message that their natural hairstyles are unacceptable or somehow abnormal.
It’s an issue no parent or child should have to address as they attempt to get an education, let alone on the very first day of school. But thankfully, this story has a happy ending: The very next day, Stanley found a school for his son accepting of his hairstyle of choice—which Clinton Jr. celebrated by wearing his locs in a mohawk for his second first day of school.