Despite pleas, NC charter school group delays decision on controversial hair policy

By Ivey Schofield

A group of charter schools in southeastern North Carolina has delayed its decision on whether boys will be allowed to wear long hair next school year, frustrating parents who say the ruling will impact whether they keep their children at the schools. 

The board of trustees at Classical Charter Schools of America, which operates schools in Leland, Southport, Wilmington and Whiteville, was expected to discuss the school group’s grooming policy on Thursday. 

Want to keep up with more news from the Border Belt Independent? Sign up here for our weekly newsletter.

About two dozen people attended the meeting to voice their opposition to the policy, which says boys must wear their hair off their ears and above their shirt collars. The schools, which are attended by some Native American students who say long hair is part of their culture, relaxed the policy during the coronavirus pandemic but said they will start enforcing it again. 

At a rally outside the Hardee’s restaurant in Leland on Thursday, some people carried signs that said “educate, not assimilate” and “my culture is not a fad” to the board meeting. One person held up his phone to show a photo of a colonist.

The board moved the discussion surrounding the policy to the end of June, a few weeks before classes start. 

“Will the school accept Indigenous kids in the fall or not?” asked Ashley Lomboy, whose 6-year-old son Logan attends the Leland school.

Like all charter schools in North Carolina, Classical Charter Schools of America receive money from the state but do not have to adhere to all of the rules and regulations of traditional public schools. 

The charter group, which enrolls more than 2,500 students across four schools, told parents last month that boys with long hair were out of compliance with the grooming  policy and said the students must cut their hair by March 29, before returning for the fourth quarter of the academic year. 

Some families pushed back, and so did the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lumbee and Waccamaw Siouan tribes, and state lawmakers. They said the policy was discriminatory and violated students’ civil rights and federal Title IX rules. 

“Logan’s hair is an extension of who he is,” Lomboy said in a March 20 letter sent to the schools from the ACLU’s national and state offices. “Without his hair, he will lose part of his heritage. Native Americans have been wearing their hair long since time immemorial.”

Related: Parents push back against NC charter school policy against long hair for boys

The schools agreed to postpone enforcement of the hair policy until the next school year

Baker Mitchell, the school’s founder, previously told the Border Belt Independent that the board of trustees would review the matter on April 27.

This isn’t the first time Classical Charter Schools of America has faced criticism. In 2016, the families of three students filed a lawsuit against the Leland school for its dress-code policy that prohibited female students from wearing pants, requiring skirts instead.

Three years later, a federal appeals court ruled that the school violated Title IX, upholding a state court’s decision. The case could go before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mitchell did not respond to a request for comment before Thursday’s meeting.

Peter Rawitsch, a former teacher and current member of the social justice ministry of the Wilmington-based Unitarian Universalist congregation, said he taught robotics to Logan Lomboy and came to support the protest.

“You don’t cut off somebody’s spirit and show disrespect to an ancient religion that is alive and well right here in this county,” he said. 

Lomboy said she hoped the turnout, which consisted of families and allies, would make a difference. 

“I think the school will at least hesitate before they try to target Native children in the future,” she said. “To me, that’s progress.”

The next board of trustees meeting will take place on June 22. The new academic year is set to begin July 20.