Two teenage girls and their parents have endured a tough battle with a Massachusetts charter school over box braids.
Deanna and Mya Cook, 15, attend Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden. Last month, the Cook sisters decided to get their hair professionally done in the style of box braids — a popular style among Black women.
When the two girls went to school the next day, they were called to the office on the grounds of a “uniform infraction.”
According to the school’s handbook, hair extensions, nail polish, makeup and dyed hair are prohibited because of their “distracting” nature. Because Mya and Deanna’s braids used fake hair, they violated the rules and were told to remove the braids, reported Boston Globe.
Instead of adhering to the school’s request, the girls left in their hair and faced severe punishments. Deanna was removed from the school track team while Mya was removed from the softball team and told she couldn’t attend the prom. The girls were also given detention and eventually suspension from the school.
Colleen and Aaron Cook, the girl’s parents who happen to be white, felt so frustrated by the treatment of their daughters, they reached out to the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Last week, the ADL and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice released a statement speaking on the Cook’s situation.
“Denying young black women their opportunity to express their cultural identity will not make the school safer, more orderly, or less ‘distracting,’” the committee said in a statement. “It will diminish your students, and diminish your ranks. Doing this to high school students at a time when they are learning about self-expression and self-advocacy is particularly troubling.”
In response, the school’s interim director, Alexander Dan, sent a letter to all Mystic Valley parents defending their actions and policies.
“The specific prohibition on hair extensions, which are expensive and could serve as a differentiating factor between students from dissimilar socioeconomic backgrounds, is consistent with our desire to create such an educational environment, one that celebrates all that our students have in common and minimizes material differences and distractions,” Dan wrote. “Any suggestion that it is based on anything else is simply wrong.”
The Cooks' story also sparked many conversations centered around the treatment and lack of support for Black people who try to embrace their roots and culture.
Most recently, Aaron and Colleen Cook sent a formal letter to the board of trustees asking them to remedy the situation. They would like the school to change its policy and be held accountable.
“In effect, this issue is now bigger than my daughters,” Aaron Cook told the Washington Post. “At the end of this, we want a better school for our children.”
(Photo: Cook Family/Crystal Johnson via Twitter)