Change Natural Hairstyle or Get Expelled, School Tells 12-Year-Old Girl

Update: School officials said Tuesday they would require VanDyke to style her hair differently, but not necessarily to cut or straighten it.

A 12-year-old girl will be expelled from a Florida school unless she gets her hair under control, school officials have told her. Vanessa VanDyke, an honors student and violinist at the Faith Christian Academy in Orlando, tells WKMG that administrators have given her one week to decide whether to cut and shape her hair or leave the school, which she has attended since the third grade.

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Faith Christian Academy did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Yahoo Shine. And VanDyke’s mother, Sabrina Kent, could not be reached for comment.

But WKMG reports that the school’s handbook includes a section on hair that says it “must be a natural color and must not be a distraction,” stating examples that include mohawks, shaved designs and rat tails. However, notes Kent, “A distraction to one person is not a distraction to another. You can have a kid come in with pimples on his face. Are you going to call that a distraction?"

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VanDyke wears her hair in a natural African-American style, which she says she won’t change. “It says that I'm unique,” she tells WKMG. “First of all, it's puffy and I like it that way. I know people will tease me about it because it’s not straight. I don’t fit in.”

She notes that fellow students have recently been teasing her about her hairstyle and it has only become an issue with the school since her family logged complaints about those incidents. Still, if the Faith Christian Academy administrators won’t reverse course, VanDyke says she will go to school elsewhere.
“I’m depressed about leaving my friends and people that I’ve known for a while, but I'd rather have that than the principals and administrators picking on me and saying that I should change my hair,” she explains.

In September, a 7-year-old Oklahoma girl was forced to switch schools after administrators at Deborah Brown Community School, a charter school, wouldn’t let her keep her dreadlocked hair. Other incidents earlier this year have included a 5-year-old from Ohio getting suspended from kindergarten when he showed up with a short Mohawk and a 15-year-old honors student getting kicked out of her Utah middle school for dyeing her locks auburn. In June, another Ohio school was the target of backlash after it sent out a letter detailing this fall's dress code, including a ban on "afro puffs and small twisted braids." The dean of students quickly apologized and said the rule was not directed at girls' hair but aimed at male students who were expected to be “well groomed.”

As for VanDyke, her mom is standing behind her. “I'm going to fight for my daughter,” Kent says. “If she wants her hair like that, she will keep her hair like that. There are people out there who may think that natural hair is not appropriate. She is beautiful the way she is.”

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