A Kentucky high school’s anti-natural-hair policy for students, loudly criticized last week by parents and activists led by state Representative-elect Attica Scott, has been abruptly suspended by administrators.
The Jefferson County Public Schools district had originally shifted blame away from itself and to the specific school, Butler Traditional High. Then when Scott angrily tweeted about the new policy — which banned dreadlocks, cornrows, twists, Mohawks and Afros “more than two inches in length” — it has issued a statement on the suspended policy. “When necessary, we will provide guidance to our schools to ensure their policies are not obtrusive, do not conflict with Board policy and most importantly do not infringe on the many cultures embraced across our school district,” Superintendent Donna Hargens’ statement reads, in part.
The changes are set to be voted on at a Thursday evening committee meeting, and the agenda, according to the Courier-Journal, proposes making the hair policy dictate that students’ hair must be “well-groomed, well-kept and at a reasonable length.” This rule would mean “above the collar” for men; no unnatural hair colors (such as pink, orange or green); and no designs or lines cut into the hair. The provision targeting dreadlocks and other styles typically worn by black students would be permanently eliminated.
This proposal was a relief to Scott and the many others who showed up at a meeting to get the rules changed:
Thank you to everyone who worked to get Butler to suspend its ban on natural hair. School policy sets the tone for a student’s experience.
— Attica Scott (@atticascott) July 30, 2016
Still, the changes did not come without stoking more outrage, because no one in the large group of parents and students who came to the meeting to express themselves was allowed to speak.
“These parents, students and community members showed up for you to listen, and what you all just did was insulting and I can’t believe you did it! I can’t believe you did it,” a furious Scott said before the school board last week. “I would love to hear from the students first because you all didn’t need to be here but you showed up. So we need to listen to the young people who have something to say.”
Several spoke on camera to the Courier-Journal after the meeting to express their frustration. “It felt like [the controversial policy] was meant more for girls, because they wear cornrows, they wear braids, they wear twists, because that’s our sense of style,” said one young woman wearing a “Black Girls Rock” T-shirt. “We don’t go around wearing our hair flat-ironed all the time.”
Another student referenced her own hair, saying, “I wore these same twists last year,” and noting that several teachers commented that her hair was “really pretty.”
A mother in attendance also spoke, noting, “We feel attacked because we are African American. … We wear Afros every day. We wear cornrows every day. … We have work lives where we’ve got to get up every morning, and it cuts down on a lot [of time] to not straighten our hair and then get our children together. They don’t understand this. … At the end of the day, it is discrimination.”
Even the ACLU had joined in on speaking out against the so-called racist hair rules.
Singling out culturally specific hairstyles may send a signal to students of color that their very being is a distraction in the classroom
— ACLU of Kentucky (@ACLUofKY) July 28, 2016
Other district schools have recently revised their own student-hair policies, removing bans on dreadlocks and similar styles, according to the Courier-Journal. Although it remains to be seen what the final code will look like at Butler, we’re pretty it won’t return to its old ways, with the community watching.