Two black female students attending a charter school in Massachusetts were recently kicked off their sports teams and prohibited from attending prom all because they wore their hair in braids. The Mystic Valley Charter School in Malden, about nine miles away from Boston, enforces a strict dress code preventing students from wearing their hair in any unnatural way, which includes braids.
Twin students Maya and Deanna Cook, African-American sophomores at the school, told local news outlets they were first told to take their braids out two weeks ago by school officials. The girls’ adoptive mother, Colleen Cook, told Boston’s 25 News that she received a call from the school informing her that students weren’t allowed to wear “anything artificial or unnatural in their hair.”
“We told them there’s nothing wrong with their hair the way it is. Their hair is beautiful, there’s no correcting that needs to be done,” Colleen Cook said, adding that the hair policy seems to only target students of color, who wear their hair in braids or extensions symbolic of their African-American culture.
The dress code policy listed on the school’s website says students can not wear “drastic or unnatural hair colors or styles such as shaved lines or shaved sides or have a hairstyle that could be distracting to other students (extra-long hair or hair more than 2 inch in thickness or height is not allowed). This means no coloring, dying, lightening (sun-in) or streaking of any sort. Hair extensions are not allowed. Hair elastics must be worn in the hair and not on the wrist.”
The Cook girls are just two of many black and biracial students that have been subjected to daily detention because of dress code violations at the school. Other parents told 25 News that their children had also been suspended for wearing braids, and following the Cook sisters’ latest incident, black students were singled out for a hair inspection.
“All the little black children were marched down for a hair inspection, whether they had braids or not, and asked, ‘are those extensions’ ‘are your braids real or not?’” Colleen Cook said.
Alexander J. Dan, the school’s interim director, said in a statement the dress code policy aims to serve a “diverse student population” that fosters “a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion or materialism. 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.”
The dress code policy is also enforced at Mystic Valley Charter Schools in Everett and Medford.
The Mystic Valley Charter School is just one of many that have come under fire for enforcing dress code policies that prohibit braids and other hairstyles representative of African-American culture. In 2016, Butler Traditional High school in Louisville, Kentucky was accused of purporting a racist dress code policy after it banned students from wearing dreadlocks, cornrows and braids. The school amended the controversial hair policy following a flood of outraged parents, including state Representative Attica Scott, a Democrat, who took to social media to condemn the school.
The U.S. military faced severe backlash in 2014 after banning natural hairstyles like dreadlocks and twists.