ACLU Files Complaint After Charter School Disciplined Students For Braids

Race and Ethnicity, Schools

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has filed a complaint against Malden’s Mystic Valley Regional Charter School after reports of the school disciplining and suspending students because they wear braids.

According to CBS News, the ACLU filed the complaint Monday with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, charging that the dress policy is discriminatory.

Reports came out last week that black students at the school—including twin 15-year-old sisters Deanna and Mya Scott—were punished for wearing braids with hair extensions. The girls were also banned from participating in track and the Latin Club and were not allowed to attend any school events, including prom, with the school citing violation of the its dress code.

Parents immediately fought back, calling the school’s actions racist, There are also reports of the school’s selective enforcement of the policy citing white students were not disciplined for coloring their hair, a practice also banned under the dress code, which prohibits hair extensions.

Students were taken to the administrators’ office and asked whether their braids had any “fake hair,” according to parents who said their children had been treated similarly. The Scotts’ adoptive mother, Colleen Cook, said that “they marched black and biracial children down the hall” to inspect their hair.

“I was really excited to be celebrating my culture because I have white parents and it’s very important to participate in the culture,” Mya told CBS Boston.

“What they’re saying is we can’t wear extensions, and the people who wear extensions are black people,” Deanna explained. “They wear them as braids to protect their hair and they’re not allowing us to do that.”

Cook continues to be upset with the way her kids were treated.

“I’m angry, I feel like my children are beautiful, they’re black, they should be proud of themselves, I’m very proud of them,” said Cook, who along with her husband, Aaron, adopted 5 kids.

“The policy specifically discriminates against African-American children as it relates to hair extensions,” Aaron Cook added. “You typically do not see Caucasian children with hair extensions. The fact that it’s in the handbook does not make it a non-discriminatory policy.”

The school says the ban on hair extensions was meant to “foster a culture that emphasizes education, rather than style, fashion or materialism.”

“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,” School Interim Director Alexander Dan said in a statement.

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice Education Project Director Matthew Cregor also penned a letter to the school’s interim director, noting that the policy may be in violation of federal anti-discrimination law. Cregor also suggested the school’s hiring policies may also be discriminatory, pointing out only one of the school’s 156 teachers is black.

(Article By Jeremiah Jones)

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