An 8-year-old girl in Michigan was barred from taking a photo on school picture day because her hairstyle was deemed “extreme.” Now, her parents are speaking out about the incident, saying “race has everything to do with this.”
The third-grader at Paragon Charter Academy in Jackson, Michigan had her hair specially done in braids wrapped into a bun by her mom LaToya Howard for the big day. But after leaving the house feeling camera ready with her black and red extensions, Marian Scott came home feeling defeated.
“Marian had called from a friend of mine’s phone who saw Marian walking down the hallway going to the office,” Howard tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “She cried and I told her that she did not do anything wrong.”
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According to Howard, Marian was told by her principal that she wasn’t allowed to get her photo taken. But Howard says that they should have communicated that with her and her fiancé, Doug Scott, first. Instead, Marian was sent back to her classroom and told that she could get her pictures done in November. Howard wrote on Facebook that she’d be taking her money to purchase photos elsewhere.
”I see other kids with colored hair but since she’s BLACK it’s a problem,” Howard wrote in a Facebook post. “Oh yea race has everything to do with this. This is one of there [sic] rules and it should of said for blacks only.”
A spokesperson from National Heritage Academies, which operates Paragon Charter Academy, sent the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle from the parent and student handbook. “Hair color must be of natural tones. Headbands must be solid white, navy, hunter green, or black. Students must be in school uniform for fall pictures and any re-takes. Students not in school uniform will not be allowed to have their pictures taken. We take great care to ensure our families are well-informed about this policy, and also work closely with students and their parents if there’s a concern,” the statement reads. “We understand the importance of good communication in helping strengthen the partnership we have with our families and will continue to make this a priority to create a school environment where everyone is valued and has their voice heard.”
While the school’s handbook reads that “hairstyles must be conservative,” Doris “Wendy” Greene, J.D, a law professor at Drexel University and expert on grooming codes discrimination maintains that, based on Howard’s observations, Marian may have been treated unfavorably because of her race.
“This incident highlights the heightened level of scrutiny, regulation, and stigmatization that black children — and black girls in particular — endure at school when they do not don straightened hairstyles in black or brown,” Greene writes to Yahoo Lifestyle via email. “Whether a black child is barred from wearing a natural hairstyle or hair color, it is often a reflection of racial as well as color-based stereotypes and biases the decision-makers implicitly or explicitly hold concerning what is ‘natural,’ or ‘normal,’ and therefore ‘acceptable’ for black children.”
Greene goes onto explain that the language used in this particular dress code isn’t unusual. In fact, children of color can often face this type of discrimination at school as a result of these regulations and the discretion used to enforce them.
“Teachers and school administrators regularly characterize natural hairstyles like locs, braids, twists, and afros, as well as humanly natural hair colors — other than black or brown— that African descendant children wear as ‘extreme’ and ‘unnatural.’ As a result, school officials often determine that black children’s hair violates the school grooming policy prohibiting ‘extreme’ or ‘unnatural’ hairstyles,” Green continues. “Schools do not have a right to implement and enforce grooming policies based upon race. One of the central legal issues is whether the enactment and enforcement of these grooming policies constitutes unlawful race discrimination.”
Now, Howard tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she and Scott’s next plan of action is to sit down with the school to address the issues that they have with the rule and the way in which it was enforced in this particular case.
“Unfortunately [Marian] will be impacted regardless of what we do or don’t do,” Howard says. “So we plan to love her and our other two children with everything inside of us.”
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