AG's office says Malden charter school hair policy singles out students of color

by: Kacie Yearout Updated:

MALDEN, Mass. - In a letter, the Attorney General's office said that a Malden charter school must stop enforcing its hair/makeup policy immediately. 

The letter said Attorney General Maura Healey, Mystic Valley Regional Charter Interim Director Alexander Dan and representatives from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education met Thursday afternoon to discuss a hair policy that parents were calling racist. 

As first reported on Boston 25 News, parents of two students at Mystic Valley Regional Charter said their daughters were kicked off their sports teams and barred from proms as part of discipline for refusing to take out their braided extensions. 

See the original story below

“It makes me feel like my culture and my hair was not important enough to be represented around the school," sophomore Deanna Cook told Boston 25 News on May 12. 

The school policy specifically mentions “distracting hairstyles” like unnatural hair color, shaved lines and extensions. Parents said that the rules were not being enforced equally, a fact the AG's office agreed upon. 

“We have found photographs on social media sites (some belonging to the school and school officials) that show students in clear violation of the Flair/Make Up policy, including a number of white students with "shaved sides" and ‘coloring, dying [sic], lightening ... or streaking.’ To the extent that MVRCS has applied the policy unequally to punish students of color more frequently or more harshly than other students, that too is clearly unlawful,” said the letter.

>>READ THE FULL LETTER from the Attorney General's office

The letter listed reasons why the hair/makeup policy appeared to single out students of color, including the prohibition of “shaved lines or shaved side”, “hair more than 2-inch in thickness or height,” and “hair extensions.” The letter noted black students are more likely to have “fades” or “afros.” The letter also said braided extensions, “can be important expressions of racial culture, heritage, and identity, in addition to serving very practical needs unique to black women and girls.” The AG’s office said the language prohibiting "hairstyle[s] that could be distracting to other students” was too vague and subjective as well.

The letter also said Mystic Valley Regional Charter’s claim that the hair policy promoted equity and reduces visible is “not reasonably tailored to those goals.”

The letter called the policy unlawful multiple times and said the school must immediately cease enforcement and discipline. It also said the two girls that were punished, Mya and Deanna Cook, should be allowed to resume all school activities.

An an emailed statement, the school's interim director said the Attorney General's letter would be reviewed.

“We are in receipt of the letter from the attorney general’s office and it will be reviewed by the board of trustees at a meeting that has been called for Sunday night," Interim Director Alexander Dan said.

Boston 25 News is reaching out to the school and the Cook family for comment. 

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