SCREENSHOT FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
“Even if I get expelled, I don’t care; the policy is inappropriate,” Mya Cook said.
By STEVE FREKER
MALDEN — A Malden-based charter school has suspended its policy ban on students wearing hair extensions for the remainder of the school year following a directive from state Attorney General Maura Healey’s office on Friday that the policy “appears to be … clearly unlawful.”
Mystic Valley Regional Charter School’s (MVRCS) board of trustees met in a closed meeting Sunday night to review the school’s Uniform Policy regulations, which include the hair policy. Following the nearly three-hour meeting, interim Director Alexander Dan announced the action.
“The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School board of trustees unanimously voted tonight to suspend the hair section of the uniform policy for the remainder of the school year,” Dan said to some media members outside the meeting Sunday. “The school will continue to work with the attorney general’s office to ensure that the uniform policy reflects our long-standing commitment to the rights of all of our students.”
Dan also said students who were facing consequences for violating that policy may now also resume all school activities.
On Monday morning, the school released a detailed letter, where it stood by its overall Uniform Policy and cited its value and results. “Our Uniform Policy is central to the success of our students. It helps provide commonality, structure, and equity to an ethnically and economically diverse student body while eliminating distractions caused by vast socio-economic differences and competition over fashion, style and materialism.”
The letter went on, “Our formula consistently delivers top results. Our African-American students have higher MCAS and SAT scores than African-American students from all other districts in our region, and nearly all attend college. Our dropout and attrition rates for African-American students are not only lower than those from our sending district, but they are lower than Caucasian rates. The role that our Uniform Policy plays in our results, and those of all our students, is not insignificant.”
The MVRCS dress code policy regarding hair extensions, where two sisters, who are black, received before and after school detentions and other punishments for refusing to remove hair extensions from their braids, has been at the center of a recent controversy which has been reported nationally.
The mother of the two MVRCS high school students contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NAACP and state AG’s office asking those agencies to investigate the situation, citing what she called discrimination based on her daughters’ race.
The mother and her daughters were among a contingent of protesters who were present at the start of Sunday’s MVRCS Trustees meeting, a number of whom waited until the end of the meeting for news.
A letter sent to the school Friday after a meeting at the Malden Square headquarters of the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education (DESE) stated: “State law prohibits discrimination by public schools, including charter schools, against students ‘on account of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.’” The letter, obtained by NECN, reads: “We are concerned that MVRCS’s Hair/MakeUp policy violates state and federal law … by subjecting students of color, especially black students, to differential treatment and thus denying them the same advantages and privileges of public education afforded to other students.”
In its letter, Mystic Valley stated the school administration had already started implementing changes to its hair policy before the recent controversy, specifically to the provision against hair that is more than two inches in height.
“This change was made well before any outside interest group or government agency raised a concern, for the first time earlier this month, that our state-approved policy might be impacting any class of students unfairly,” the letter reads. “It should also be noted that in cases where a student had a substantiated religious or medical conflict with our policy, the school adjusted its policies to accommodate those concerns.”
Mystic Valley officials also stated they believed the existing policy would stand up in court, despite the AG’s assertions. “While we believe there is precedent confirming that our policy could stand a legal challenge … we do not wish to engage in a legal battle that would divert the focus and energy of our faculty and students, siphoning financial resources from the school and the students it serves,” the letter said.
The school will now work with the AG’s office on a Uniform Policy, and hair regulation, that “is consistent with our long-standing commitment to the rights of all our students,” stated the school’s letter.