Mom says elementary school is demanding that her first-grader cut his dreadlocks: 'I won't conform to racist policies'

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Jonathan Brown was told to get a haircut before school resumed. (Photo: Courtesy of Tiffany Brown)
Jonathan Brown was told to get a haircut before school resumed. (Photo: Courtesy of Tiffany Brown)

A Texas mom is speaking out after her 6-year-old son, Jonathan, was ordered to cut his hair, which he wears in dreadlocks, before returning to elementary school after the holidays. Classes at Spring Valley Elementary School in Hewitt, Texas, resumed on Jan. 8.

A flier sent home with the first-grader before the winter break outlined Midway Independent School District’s dress code policies, with the portion on hairstyles highlighted in yellow. According to the letter, “hair must not be lower than the bottom of the ears or collar in the back.” A handwritten note instructs the boy to “please cut by Jan. 8th.”

That command didn’t sit well with the boy’s mom, author Tiffany Brown, who slammed the hair policy as “racist & gendered” in a series of tweets.

“I signed up for a great education, for my children,” she tweeted. “I won’t conform to racist policies.”

In an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle, Brown — who uses the pen name T.L. Browning — said she hadn’t received prior warnings about Jonathan’s hair. She also explained why she’s so vehemently opposed to cutting her son’s hair, citing the significance of dreadlocks within her community and noting that students of color are often targeted by hair regulations.

“Children of color have been targeted for many years, because of what others see as the norms in our society,” she said. “Because of these norms that are blinding people in our society, some people have stated that dreadlocks are a fashion statement and my child should conform and express himself when he’s older. Dreadlocks are part of my African culture, not a fashion statement.

“Dreadlocks have been a symbol of beauty and strength for many years,” Brown continued. “During slavery, everything was stripped from my people. Now, this is happening. So, basically it’s a form of control and bondage. Biblically speaking, when Samson was stripped from his hair he was weakened. Our hair is our glory! Only recently, people of color/African descent have come to accept and love their natural hair. To hear someone say it’s not enough or that my hair should blend with others, that’s not right.

“My son’s hair is a part of him. Hair grows from the scalp; this is a part of his body. How can parents teach kids to love themselves and then a school is telling them differently? The school is saying you’re not enough! My son is not enough for them. Now, they’re asking him to alter his body, because they don’t like it.”

Brown added that Jonathan returned to school on Jan. 8 with his hair intact and was called to the school office.

“He was told that they wanted to speak with him about his Christmas break,” she said. “However, they proceeded to speak with him about his hair!”

Brown said she “nearly slammed on the car brakes” when the boy told her that the meeting, which allegedly referenced her appearance on local TV to discuss the hair policy, had discouraged him about keeping his dreadlocks.

“My son Jonathan went from loving his hair yesterday to opting to cut his hair today, after this meeting,” she said. “Yesterday, he loved his hair and didn’t want it cut; today he’s frustrated and doesn’t, after speaking with a school official.”

She remains adamant, however, telling Yahoo Lifestyle that her son having a “meeting with an adult speaking about his hair being an issue without my presence will not be tolerated.”

“My plans are to go as far as needed to ensure the rights and liberties of every child are respected and protected,” she added. “Not only for children of color, but for every child.”

In a statement sent to Yahoo Lifestyle, school district officials insisted that the hair policy isn’t racially motivated.

“Midway ISD has implemented dress and grooming standards for decades. The policy is established to teach grooming and hygiene, prevent disruption and minimize safety hazards. Even when the policy has incrementally evolved through revisions over time, the length of male students’ hair has been a subject of periodic debate over several decades. In other words, male students wanting to have long hair is not new.

“Nevertheless, what IS new is a social media claim this past weekend that Midway’s hair code is racially discriminatory. Since the code applies to all students, it is not discriminatory in intent or by legal standards. Students are expected to adhere to the current dress code, which was acknowledged by every student’s guardian at registration. However, any parent may submit documentation to the campus administration requesting a possible exemption to the dress and grooming standards for a sincerely held religious belief. These letters are reviewed carefully by campus administration and determined on a case-by-case basis.

“Midway ISD is committed to serving our students’ unique academic, social, emotional and physical needs, including continual reviews of policies and procedures that affect such needs. We appreciate parents and community members interested in partnering with us to make Midway an inclusive place where all students are welcomed and valued, regardless of race, color, religion, gender or ability. As a district, we are dedicated and open to questions, concerns and input.”

A school district spokesperson told Yahoo Lifestyle that the rules are reviewed annually and have been updated to allow religious exemptions on a case-by-case basis. However, school officials say they have not yet had a chance to discuss the issue of Jonathan’s dreadlocks with Brown directly.

Brown isn’t the only parent to take action over a hair policy. A Florida father filed a legal complaint last year accusing his 6-year-old son’s private school of racial discrimination for banning the boy’s dreadlocks.

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