Black Students Received Daily Detention, Removed from Sports Team for Braids Because it Does Not ‘Promote Equity’

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The head of a lawyers’ group is condemning a hair policy that prohibits the use of hair extensions after two Black students were punished for wearing box braids.

“We were outraged by what we heard this morning,” Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice tells Boston 25 Friday, May 12.

Sisters Maya and Deana Cook were reprimanded by the administration at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, Mass., in April and after they refused to take out their braids, Boston 25 reported the Cooks were removed from sports teams and banned from prom. Maya and Deana Cook also were placed in detention daily.

“All the little Black children were marched down for a hair inspection,” the students’ adoptive mother, Colleen Cook, says of the aftermath of her daughters’ punishments.

The school has defended the policy against hair extensions as a measure to “promote equity,” but a civil rights attorney who is now involved in the situation disagrees.

“It is one of the most gross examples of a school policing the identity and expression of their students,” Espinoza-Madrigal says.

His organization sent a letter to Mystic Valley’s director Friday saying the policy violates federal anti-discrimination law since braid extensions are primarily worn by people of African decent.

“Denying young Black women their opportunity to express their cultural identity will not make your school safer, more orderly or less ‘distracting,’ ” the letter said. “It will diminish your students, and diminish your ranks.”

The Cook sisters’ story was covered in several publications, leading the school to send a letter home to parents Friday.

“The specific prohibition on 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 such an educational environment, one that celebrates all that our students have in common and minimizes material differences and distractions,” the letter said. “Any suggestion that it is based on anything else is simply wrong.

“Media reports about our policy have contained numerous inaccuracies but, in addition to those outlined above, there are two glaring errors that demand a response. First, our uniform policy does not prohibit braids. Second, the school unequivocally did not ‘march’ a group of students to the office.”

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