The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed a complaint with the state’s education department calling for the elimination of a policy that bans hair extensions at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School.

The school recently came under fire for its decision to punish African-American female students who wear extensions in their hair.

“Mystic Valley Regional Charter School maintains a makeup policy that discriminates based on race, gender, national origin, religion, and disability,” read the complaint.

The Cooks’ sophomore twin daughters, Deanna and Mya, were given detention and prohibited from taking part in extracurricular activities because they refused to take out their extensions after spring break.

Deanna was ejected from the track team, while Mya was removed from the softball team and told she could not attend junior prom. According to Aaron Cook, the school delivered a letter to the family informing them that their daughters each owe six hours of detention.

The complaint was filed by ACLU of Massachusetts Deputy Legal Director Sarah Wunsch, who said the school’s hair policy advances a standard based on white, Christian, Western norms. “This policy appears to be harmful to female students of color, and it has been enforced in a discriminative manner against them,” Wunsch wrote.

The Cooks say that about 20 other students of the African-American origin were summoned to the nurse’s office where their hair was inspected, after their daughters were pulled out of class for uniform infractions on April 25. Those who had extensions were disciplined, and one student was ultimately suspended.

Surprisingly, Non-black students were not subject to similar inspections. In a letter to parents, Mystic Valley Interim Director Alexander Dan denied that students were “marched” to the office.

The school’s policy not only bans hair extensions but also prohibits hair that is “more than 2 inches in thickness or height,” which Wunsch said would disproportionately affect African-Americans.

Additionally, the policy restricts unnatural hair colors or styles such as shaved sides, as well as facial hair for men.

“By punishing Deanna and Mya, Mystic Valley is violating their rights under state statutes guaranteeing equal treatment in public education, as well as under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, Massachusetts Equal Rights Amendment, and federal civil rights law,” Wunsch stated.

Mystic Valley has an enrollment of 1,486 of which 47 percent of the students are non-white and 17 percent black. It has 170 full-time equivalent staff members, of which only one is African-American, and fewer than 12 are non-white.
DESE officials contacted the school, and the sign was taken down a few hours after Wunsch filed the complaint.

Read more details here.

BY SUSAN JOHNES