A Louisiana teen who is a Rastafarian has missed almost every day of school since the start of the new semester because of the length of his locks, the Raw Story reports.
According to the report, the young boy went to school on Aug. 8, when classes resumed, but was sent home because his hair went past his shirt collar—something that is apparently against the school dress code—and was told not to return until he cut his hair, something that is forbidden in his religion.
The student came back the following week with his hair pinned up, but the school still considered him to be in violation of the dress code.
As the Raw Story notes, Rastafarian belief prohibits the cutting of one’s hair so that the hair can grow freely and naturally in a dreadlock state.
“The wearing of dreadlocks for [the student] is akin to the wearing of a religious icon by another student,” the ACLU wrote in a letter sent Monday to the Plaquemines Parish School Board. “We would object if the school were to tell a Christian student they could not wear a cross or if it were to permit the wearing of religious icons of one faith and prohibited those of another faith,” the organization added. “In discriminating against [the student’s] religious beliefs, the school is expressing a preference for certain religions, which is unacceptable.”
According to the Raw Story, the student’s mother did get a letter from their church, the 1st Church of Rastafar I, detailing for the school superintendent the importance of the boy’s hair to his faith. The letter, however, did little good, with the superintendent allegedly telling the mother that it was not enough reason for the school to overlook the dreadlocks. The mother asked the superintendent what documentation she would need to have the boy exempted, but the superintendent allegedly told her that he wasn’t a lawyer.
The boy has reportedly missed 10 out of the first 11 days of school over the issue, although, the Raw Story notes, he has not been officially suspended.
“The actions of the school and Superintendent [Denis] Rousselle are the equivalent of an unlimited suspension,” the ACLU said, arguing that the student’s rights are protected under the Constitution as well as Louisiana’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. “[The student] will be able to prove that his dreadlocks and hair length are a sincerely held religious belief of his Rastafari religion … It is also a method of self-expression, because it communicates to others an important fact about [the student]: that he is a Rastafari for whom traditional religious practices are important to him and his family. By refusing to allow him to attend school, the Board is violating [his] statutory and constitutional rights.”
The ACLU is pushing for a hearing in which the student is exempted from the dress code and his disciplinary record regarding the matter is cleared.
Read more at Raw Story.