Middle-school teacher calls Afros 'unacceptable' and 'outlandish' for choir performance

A music teacher at Pleasant Run Middle School apologized for a dress code that called Afros “unacceptable.” (Photo: Pleasant Run Middle School)
A music teacher at Pleasant Run Middle School apologized for a dress code that called Afros “unacceptable.” (Photo: Pleasant Run Middle School)

A Cincinnati music teacher concedes that calling Afros “unacceptable” and “outlandish” in a letter to parents regarding the dress code for a school concert was insensitive.

On Monday, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported on the letter from Steven Reeves, a music teacher at Pleasant Run Middle School, who banned the traditional black hairstyles for the Dec. 13 performance — and the irate feelings from the community.

Todd Bowling, the superintendent of Northwest Local School District in Cincinnati, sent Yahoo Lifestyle an apology from Reeves.

“Along with a revised dress guideline for the upcoming and future chorus concerts, I wanted to send a note of apology for any negative feelings that were created due to the previous dress guideline communication,” wrote Reeves. “The wording and expectations were insensitive and were a mistake. My hope in the foreseeable future is to mend relationships that have been broken with students, parents, and the Pleasant Run Middle School community. If you would like to meet with me to discuss concerns going forward, please do not hesitate to reach out to get something scheduled.”

The teacher, who was hired in August, added the new guidelines for the upcoming Winter Concert: white shirts with black pants or a black skirt.

Last week, Reeves sent parents a firm letter about the vocal ensemble dress code. Under a section called “Concert hairstyles,” he wrote, “Men should receive the appropriate barber attention the evening before the concert. Mohawks, ‘barber designs,’ and large afros are not acceptable. Men with long hair (i.e.: dreadlocks or braids) should devote the necessary attention to make sure that hair is neat and pulled behind the neck in a conservative ponytail style.”

The dress code also “strongly encouraged” girls to visit a cosmetologist before the performance: “Hair must be styled in a manner that will not draw any specific attention to an individual performer on stage. Therefore, bright colors such as pink or red are not permissible. To that end, mohawks, large afros, or any other outlandish hairstyle is not acceptable.”

Reeves noted that students who didn’t follow the dress code would be sent home from the concert and flunk the event and a portion of the class.

Parents said the rules alienated black students who wear the hairstyles and that Reeves should be fired. On Saturday, the school apologized for the letter via Twitter.

“Them sending home something like this is sending a message that it’s not OK to show up in our natural state,” Marlicia Robinson, whose daughter is a member of the choir, told Local 12 WKRC-TV. “My daughter wears an Afro to school on a regular basis. That’s her regular hairstyle; she has a lot of hair. It’s going to be large. That’s just what her hair does, that’s what our hair does as black people.”

Robinson said about Reeves: “I think that it’s his first year; he’s a black teacher, and I just think he didn’t want to rock the boat.”

Bowling sent a statement from the district to Yahoo Lifestyle regretting the original dress code. “Thank you to everyone that brought your concerns directly to the administration about the original concert expectations document and the language that was chosen,” it read. “We sincerely apologize for the frustration the original language caused or breakdown in the relationship that resulted from the original set of guidelines.”

The district said it did not approve the original guidelines, created by Reeves, principal Eric Dunn and other administrators. “…The guidelines have been corrected and now reflect the desire for concert attire that presents our students in the best manner and are in line with current school practices and policies.”

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