Several students protested outside Pretoria Girls High School in South Africa on Monday, accusing officials of discriminating against black girls at the school and encouraging racist hair policies, prompting a response from the local education chief, BuzzFeed reports.
According to the report, a petition began to circulate calling on Panyaza Lesufi, the head of education for the Gauteng province, and the Pretoria Girls High School headmistress to ensure that the school's code of conduct “does not discriminate against black and Muslim girls.”
"Girls attending the school have been forced to straighten their hair; are accused of conspiring when standing in groups, and face other intolerable comments and actions," reads the petition, which has racked up over 25,000 signatures since being posted.
According to one report by 702 Live, students were reportedly told that they would be barred from writing their exams if they wore dreadlocks or did not straighten their hair.
Students also say they have been told not to speak in other languages with one another, and that often, when a group of girls are walking together, they are told to disperse, BuzzFeed reports.
“I’m truly sorry and I can assure you that it ends here,” the local education chief, Lesufi, said of the situation, according to News24. “You have my support and I will protect you. Your pain will never again continue for as long as I’m still the MEC in this province.”
Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa tweeted out his support for the girls at Pretoria.
According to the BBC, the school has yet to respond to the allegations. The network, however, noted that the school's code of conduct did not specifically mention Afros in its detailed list of rules about hair.
"This is about our identity as black people. We're tired of being told to be less than what we are so we can fit in," one of the protesters told the BBC.
As the network notes, the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh was trending across the region on social media, where several young black South Africans have been speaking out about beauty, cultural tolerance and racism.