Marian Reed posted this photo of her daughter, wearing the offending hairstyle, on her Facebook page. (Photo: Facebook)
[NOTE: This story has been updated as of May 13 with an apology from the school. Please see below.]
A mom is calling for racial sensitivity training at her daughter’s elementary school after the third-grader was reprimanded for having her natural hair pulled into a line of mini ponytails, or afro puffs, that administrators say violated the grooming code.
“She cried and said no one was going to want to be her friend because her hair was not as pretty as the assistant principal’s,” Marian Reed, of Belton, Texas, told KCEN about her 9-year-old daughter after she was pulled out of gym class and sent home by assistant principal Madonna Lopez. “And as a parent, that’s heartbreaking, because that’s just what God naturally gave her.”
The girl’s school, Tarver Elementary, has a “dress and grooming” policy that bans hairstyles “that could be interpreted as indecent or disruptive to the educational process,” such as “mohawks” or even “faux-hawks.”
But Reed was unmoved. “It wasn’t in a mohawk,” she said. “It’s not shaved on the side or anything. She was a little girl being 9 years old.” Reed, who is black, added that the school’s actions seemed racist; she noted administrators were fine when her daughter wore the same style in the past — but with a synthetic weave rather than her natural hair.
“I don’t believe that it was intended to be racial,” she said. “But I think the district as a whole may need some cultural diversity training.” Reed, who is a competitive bodybuilder and could not be reached by Yahoo Beauty, implied that the school staff could use some sensitivity training too.
“They could have called me and discussed it with me without pulling her out of class and without having that conversation in front of her, because now she’s questioning her natural image,” the mom said. “And at 9 years old, she’s going to remember that for the rest of her life.”
Charla Trejo, the executive director of campus leadership for the Belton Independent School District, tells Yahoo Beauty that the motivation behind sending the girl home was “for consistency purposes,” as other students with similar styles have been reprimanded in the past. While Trejo will not respond directly to charges of racism, she does add, “We are going to review our dress code. It’s that time of the year.”
[UPDATE AS OF MAY 13: “We did it!!!!” Reed told Yahoo Beauty in a private Facebook message. “The administrators involved in this incident…have reviewed the incident and the current dress code for Belton ISD. [On Thursday] I met with them, at which time an apology was issued, as well as an admittance that they did not fully listen to my concern and complaint. Further, they took ownership of the misuse of the current dress code and recognized that it is outdated and not inclusive of all cultures. As a result, the dress code WILL be revised and the code referring to hair will be removed. Also, cultural diversity training…will become a part of mandatory training. I was even asked to review the remainder of the dress code to identify any other rules that may be culturally insensitive and/or offensive in its language and application.” Further, she added, “The principal is revamping the way that future violations of code are handled, as to not cause any emotional stress or damage to the child.”]
Reed had originally posted about the situation on her Facebook page after receiving the initial call from Lopez about her daughter’s hair. “Please help me make this go viral!” she wrote, along with a photo (above) of the ’do in question. “I explained to [Lopez] that my daughter’s hair is natural, not shaven, and in six afro puffs because her hair doesn’t lay flat. I explained to her that saying she was out of dress code for wearing a natural hairstyle is discriminatory! Not only that, but while I teach my daughter that her natural beauty is perfect, this assistant principal is giving my daughter the message that her natural beauty is not good enough!”
But comments on the Facebook post were mixed, with some criticizing Reed for flouting the rules. “This is a great way to teach your kid that the rules don’t apply to them and not to pick their battles… This isn’t about the texture of her hair or her race it’s about the style. Put some afro puffs in her hair that don’t sit on top of her head in a straight row and get over it.” Others shared Reed’s point of view. “How can we educate our children if the educators are this ignorant?!” asked one. Another posted, “There is nothing wrong with this child’s hair. But there is something very wrong with a school singling a child out and declaring that something is wrong with how they look.”
Still, the situation is not exactly rare. Stories about kids being told to change their hairstyles pop up regularly — such as those about teens in Georgia and Florida who were singled out for having their hair dyed an “unnatural color,” as well as a girl in the Bahamas who was suspended over her afro puff in February, prompting a #SupportThePuff social media campaign. And in 2014, a 12-year-old private school student in Florida blew up the Internet over reports that she was threatened with expulsion over her naturally “puffy” hair being a “distraction.” The school eventually relented.