Amid widespread backlash, the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School Board in Malden, Mass., unanimously voted to end its controversial hair policy banning braided hair extensions at a meeting Sunday evening, May 21.
The school debated its hair and makeup policy following a rebuke from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, which called the policy “unlawful” and demanded that the school immediately stop enforcing it, Boston 25 News reported. The AG’s office also asserted that the policy unfairly targeted nonwhite students.
Around 9:15 that evening, the school board announced that the ban was suspended for the remainder of the school year. Interim School Director Alexander Dan added that the decision was unanimous and that punishments against students would be lifted as well.
“We’re optimistic, but we are not done with this fight,” said Aaron Cook, the father of the two Black female students at the center of the hot-button issue.
As previously reported, students Mya and Deanna Cook were kicked off their sports teams and banned from prom after refusing to take out their braided extensions. The Cooks also were punished with detention on a daily basis.
The school initially defended its hair policy, which prohibits extensions, hair over 2 inches in thickness or height, shaved lines/fades and unnatural hair colors. School officials contended the policy against extensions was enacted to “promote equality,” but civil rights lawyer Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal didn’t see it that way.
“It is one of the most gross examples of a school policing the identity and expression of their students,” Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, said.
In a letter sent to Mystic Valley’s director last Friday, the attorney also argued that the policy violates federal anti-discrimination laws, as African-Americans are the primary wearers of braid extensions.
“Denying young Black women their opportunity to express their cultural identity will not make your school safer, more orderly or less ‘distracting,'” he wrote in the letter. “It will diminish your students and diminish your ranks.”
The Attorney General’s Office agreed, stating in a similarly written letter that, “To the extent that MVRCS has applied the policy unequally to punish students of color more frequently or more harshly than other students — that too is clearly unlawful.”
For the twin 15-year-olds and their father, the board’s decision is a step in the right direction. However, the family said they wish to see the policy permanently removed.
“There is some sort of relief there, to know that I won’t have to worry about not being able to go to track and not go to states, and not have to deal with all this detention,” Deanna Cook told CBS Boston.
Father Aaron Cook said he was proud of his daughters for standing their ground.
“The school will continue to work with the Attorney General’s office to ensure that the uniform policy reflects our long-standing commitment to the rights of all of our students,” a school spokesman said.
The lifted ban is effective immediately.