By Ivey Schofield
After pushback from parents and the American Civil Liberties Union, a group of charter schools in southeastern North Carolina says it will not force boys to cut their long hair for the remainder of the academic year.
Classical Charter Schools of America, which operates schools in Leland, Southport, Wilmington and Whiteville, had told parents that school policy prevented boys from wearing their hair long. School administrators said they must cut their locks before returning last week from spring break.
But the schools reversed course following complaints from Native American and other families who said long hair was an important part of their culture and identity. The Lumbee and Waccamaw Siouan tribes condemned the policy.
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In addition, the ACLU wrote a letter to the school saying the policy was discriminatory and violated federal Title IX rules. State Sen. Danny Britt and Rep. Jarrod Lowery, both Robeson County Republicans, wrote letters to the school group condemning the policy.
“As you are undoubtedly aware, the recent efforts to resume enforcement of some longstanding school policies – such as our grooming standards – that were relaxed during the COVID disruptions are causing some disruptions of their own,” Dawn Ivey, headmaster of the Whiteville school, said in a March 24 email to parents that was shared with the Border Belt Independent.
The coronavirus pandemic had major impacts on schools, including charter schools that receive money from the state but are not forced to comply with all of regulations placed on traditional public schools.
In the email, Ivey said the plan was to once again enforce the hair policy at all four Classical Charter Schools during the fourth quarter of this school year. But boys are now allowed to wear long hair in braids or buns for the rest of the year as they have been.
The school group’s board of trustees will review the grievances filed by parents and decide how to move forward, the schools say. Meanwhile, some parents wonder what will happen when the new school year starts in August.
“Sounds like cut hair or find another school to me,” said Tammie Jump, a member of the Lumbee Tribal Council whose 7-year-old grandson attends the Whiteville school.
Jump said her grandson has developed relationships with teachers and students since he began attending the school two years ago.
“I don’t feel it’s fair to uproot him over long-standing Native practices and enforcement of white man’s standards for approval of hair,” she said.
Ashley Lomboy, a member of the Waccamaw Siouan tribe whose son attends the Leland school, said she was disappointed the school didn’t eliminate the hair policy for good.
“We hoped that by providing education to the school administrators about the importance of our sons’ hair would help them understand,” she said. “But they have made their points clear.”
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.
Baker Mitchell, the school’s founder, told the Border Belt Independent on Monday that the school group’s board of trustees will consider the hair policy over the next several months.
“The board seeks to balance the desires of the many parents who voluntarily select these schools of choice because of the unique educational philosophy, with the desires of those who seek exemptions from certain policies for honorable and sincere reasons,” Mitchell said.
Jump said it’s about fairness.
“We deserve education and heritage,” she said, “not being made to choose between education and heritage.”