A California student suspended over his refusal to cut his braids was allowed back to class Tuesday after his story went public.
The Mater Dei High School sophomore, who’s of mixed race, was given in-school suspension for “arguing and insubordination” after challenging an administrator’s calls for him to cut his braided hair, The San Diego Union Tribune reported.
School officials claimed the style, which was above the collar but fell slightly below the teen’s eyebrows, violated school dress code.
“My son has the right to not cut his hair,” his mother, Melissa Harden, told the newspaper. “He has beautiful hair.”
Harden said her son wound up missing three days of classes at the San Diego-area Catholic school, where yearly tuition is upwards of $17,000. It wasn’t until after the incident was publicized on social media that school leaders agreed to let the teen return to class.
The suspension will also be wiped from his record, the Union Tribune reported.
Harden said she still can’t understand why her son was “singled out” over his hair. He’s had the same length of hair since starting school at Mater Dei in 2018 and only faced punishment when he wore it in braids, she said.
“Was it too ethnic, was it too cultural for them?” Harden said of her son’s hair, adding that she’d seen photos of other male students with hair just as long. “It is discrimination. They discriminated against my son, and they harassed my son.”
She said the teen has also been disciplined for minor infractions, like not wearing a tie with his cardigan on Mass days or wearing the wrong color socks.
The Mater Dei incident is just the latest in a string of cases involving Black students punished over their hair/hairstyles. The most prominent came in 2018 when a New Jersey high school wrestler was forced to cut his dreads moments before a high-stakes match — or forfeit. Video of a trainer taking a pair of shears to the young man’s head sparked national outrage.
Last year, an 8-year-old Michigan girl was barred from taking school photos after officials said her red braided hair extensions were not in compliance with the school dress code for picture day.
California sought to tackle the issue of hair discrimination with the passage of the CROWN Act, which prohibits the enforcement of grooming policies that unfairly target African-Americans and other people of color. New York was the first to pass such a measure, and New Jersey most recently followed suit.
The California law, which took effect Jan. 1, doesn’t apply to private schools like Mater Dei, however.
Atlanta Black Star contacted the school for comment and is awaiting response.