The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has filed a complaint against Malden’s Mystic Valley Regional Charter School after reports that the school disciplined and suspended students because they wear braids, citing the school’s dress policy.
The ACLU filed the complaint Monday with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, charging that the policy is discriminatory, CBS News reports.
Reports came out last week that black students at the school—including twin 15-year-old sisters Deanna and Mya Cook —were punished for wearing braids with hair extensions. The girls were also banned from participating in track and the Latin Club and were not allowed to attend any school events, including prom, with the school citing violation of the its dress code.
However, some parents, including Deanna and Mya’s, immediately struck back, slamming the crackdown as racist, especially given reports that some white students were not disciplined for coloring their hair, a practice also banned under the dress code, which prohibits hair extensions, although it does not specify hair extensions on braids.
Students were taken to administrators’ office and asked whether their braids had any “fake hair,” according to parents who said that their children had been treated similarly. The twins’ adoptive mother, Colleen Cook, said that “they marched black and biracial children down the hall” to inspect their hair.
“I was really excited to be celebrating my culture because I have white parents and it’s very important to participate in the culture,” Mya told told CBS Boston.
“What they’re saying is we can’t wear extensions, and the people who wear extensions are black people,” Deanna explained. “They wear them as braids to protect their hair and they’re not allowing us to do that.”
The twins’ mother continues to be upset at the injustices she feels her daughters are facing in school.
“I’m angry, I feel like my children are beautiful, they’re black, they should be proud of themselves, I’m very proud of them,” said Cook, who, along with her husband, Aaron, adopted the twins and their three other siblings.
“The policy specifically discriminates against African-American children as it relates to hair extensions,” Aaron Cook added. “You typically do not see Caucasian children with hair extensions. The fact that it’s in the handbook does not make it a nondiscriminatory policy.”
The school contends that the ban on hair extensions was meant to “foster a culture that emphasizes education, rather than style, fashion or materialism.”
“The specific prohibition of 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 an educational environment, one that celebrates all that students have in common and minimizes material differences and distractions,” school interim Director Alexander Dan said in a statement.
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice Education Project Director Matthew Cregor also penned a letter to the school’s interim director, noting that the policy may be in violation of federal anti-discrimination law.
Cregor went on to suggest that the school’s hiring policies may also be discriminatory, since only one of the school’s 156 teachers is black.