SCREENSHOT FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Mystic Valley Interim Director Alex Dan speaks with the media.
Response from MYSTIC VALLEY REGIONAL CHARTER SCHOOL
As you may know, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Attorney General’s office has reviewed our uniform policy in response to a parent complaint about the policy’s prohibition on artificial hair extensions. That review included a meeting on Thursday, and has led to a preliminary course of action that is described below.
We wish to thank Attorney General Maura Healey for the productive clarity and guidance provided by her office. In prompting students to focus on what they have in common, 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 socioeconomic differences and competition over fashion, style or materialism.
The uniform policy compels students to train their attention inward, on character and core competencies that allow students to pursue rich, happy lives.
Mystic Valley’s uniform policy has remained largely unchanged since the school was founded. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the school’s governing body, has reviewed it at least six times in the last 15 years, as part of each of the school’s three renewal visits and for three consecutive years while the school was on conditions.
In each of its reviews, DESE identified no concerns. 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 the region, and nearly all attend college.
Our dropout and attrition rates for African-American students are not only lower than those in sending districts, but they are lower than Caucasian rates. The role that our uniform policy plays in these results, and those of all our students, is not insignificant.
Of course, despite the vast importance of the uniform policy on the performance of our students, the policy must comport with our long-held commitment, as stated in our parent-student handbook and on our website, to offer the same advantages, privileges and courses of study to all students, regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.
Some have asserted that our prohibition on artificial hair extensions violates a “cultural right,” but that view is not supported by the courts, which distinguish between policies that affect a person’s natural “immutable” characteristics and those that prohibit practices based on changeable cultural norms.
You should know that we categorically rejected an order from the DESE, which was influenced by media reports, to cease all disciplinary actions associated with our entire uniform policy. We believe that following this directive would have disastrous consequences on our ability to create the structure and equity central to the success of our students, and that it would fundamentally alter the nature of the environment you chose for your children.
Attorney General Healey’s office did not assert the existence of a “cultural right” and, instead, based its opposition to the hair policy on its concern that the policy’s impact may fall disproportionately on African-American students.
To remedy its concerns, the attorney general’s office requested that the school stop disciplining students for violations of three specific components of the uniform policy’s hair section.
The school had already determined, eight months before the current complaint, that we would not enforce the provision against hair that was more than two inches in height, based on productive conversations with members of our community, according to our standard internal complaint procedure.
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. 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.
While we believe there is precedent confirming that our policy would withstand a legal challenge and data showing that we have implemented the policy in an equitable manner, we do not wish to engage in a legal battle that would further divert the focus and energy of our faculty and students, siphoning financial resources from the school and the students it serves.
For these reasons, the board of trustees of the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School has voted to suspend enforcement of the hair section of its uniform policy for the remainder of the school year.
As we undertake our annual review of the uniform policy for the coming school year, we will work collaboratively with the attorney general’s office to make sure that the policy is consistent with our long-standing commitment to the rights of all our students. Mystic Valley remains committed to implementing the mission of the school and all of its underlying principles.