Two Texas students learned their school’s zero tolerance dress code policies can lead to serious consequences.
In theory, school dress codes and grooming policies intend to thwart distractions by fostering conformity and compliance to an established norm but two Texas students in different parts of the state recently learned that sometimes sporting a ponytail can result in potential suspension or worse, expulsion, all because of school zero tolerance policies.
Now their parents are mad.
Central Texas mother Marian Reed wants an apology from Tarver Elementary School in the Belton Independent School District. The assistant principal recently pulled Reed’s 9-year-old daughter out of a physical education class and sent the black child home over her hairdo. The administrator decided that the row of six small ponytails resembled a faux hawk, also known as a fake Mohawk, a haircut that violated the school’s dress code.
Thursday, Reed told the Today Show, it was only ever meant to be a quick, kid-friendly hairstyle. “Never thought twice about it.”
Previously, Reed vented on Facebook about a conversation with a school district official over the ponytails. She posted, in part: “I explained to her that my daughter’s hair is natural, not shaven, and in six afro puffs because her hair doesn’t lay flat. I explained to her that saying she was out of dress code for wearing a natural hairstyle is discriminatory! Not only that, but while I teach my daughter that her natural beauty is perfect, this assistant principal is giving my daughter the message that her natural beauty is not good enough!”
Although Reed felt the decision to reprimand her daughter was discriminatory because Belton ISD had no issue when the child wore the same style only with longer synthetic braids instead of her natural hair, she told KCEN-TV (NBC) she did not believe the incident intended to be racial.
Belton ISD Executive Director of Campus Leadership Charla Trejo also spoke to the Today Show. “The bottom line is that the principal was trying to be consistent with other decisions that she had made on the campus about dress code and hair style. That is the main thing,” she said.
Reed even suggested cultural diversity training for school administrators. Trejo told the NBC morning show principals and teachers already receive “Safe and Civil Schools” training to maintain “a high degree of respect in how we treat each other.”
The school’s dress code and grooming policy gives principals discretionary leeway as the final arbiter on “appropriateness of clothing and hairstyles.” If a principal deems there is a violation, a student “will be given an opportunity to correct the problem.”
The Belton ISD Student Code of Conduct handbook cites hair violations as extreme hair color, extreme hairstyles, designs cut in hair, Mohawks and faux-hawks as hairstyles that “could be interpreted as indecent or disruptive to the educational process.” It cautions: “If not corrected, the student will be assigned to in-school suspension for the remainder of the day, until the problem is corrected, or until a parent or designee brings an acceptable change of clothing to the school. Repeated offenses may result in more serious disciplinary action in accordance with the Student Code of Conduct.”
Reed expressed her frustration that school officials did not call to discuss the issue with her and instead chose to yank the child out of class, leaving the 9-year-old to feel as if she had gotten in trouble.
Last year, Breitbart Texas reported about a Plainview ISD mother who wanted an apology from her son’s assistant principal. Monica Esquival said she never received prior notification that the school official colored in her middle schooler’s hair part with a black magic marker after deciding a perceived “gap” in his hair part could be construed as a “gang-related” design. Esquival said her son was not in a gang and did not dress like a gang member. In 2011, another Texas administrator sharpie penned a Marshall ISD middle school boy’s head, his haircut also deemed a design. Sheldon Williams’ stepmother said no one contacted her prior to administrative action either.
Another ponytail sounded the dress code alarms in North Texas in late April when 7th grader Isaias Mouton, a student at Newman International Academy (NIA), an open-enrollment PreK-12 public charter school in Arlington, was told either his well-groomed ponytail or he must go.
Mouton’s father Israel said the 12-year-old attended the school for four years with the same ponytail and this was the first time the family heard anything about being in violation with the dress code. Mouton, who got good grades, helped with the robotics team and played viola in the school’s orchestra, was upset with the school’s decision to enforce the rule now.
Superintendent Dr. Sheba George told Dallas’ KDFW 4 (Fox) the family had a “very long time to be in compliance with this policy” and “it would be absolutely unfair to the other 1,000 students” in compliance even in the final weeks of the school year. The 2015-16 Student Handbook states a boy’s hair “can be no longer than the top of the collar or below eyebrows.”
The pre-teen told KDFW 4: “It’s not fair if you just make rules and then enforce them at the last moment,” adding: “And then if you don’t follow them, you get kicked out.”
The elder Mouton said his son will complete the final weeks of the school year in the Arlington Independent School District, according to the Dallas Morning News.
More disconcerting than switching schools is that two Texas ponytails made their way onto the “discretionary” vortex of violations dictated by Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code, which can result in far-reaching consequences for students, from In-School-Suspension (ISS) to expulsion, the result of zero tolerance policies that fuel the troubling school-to-prison pipeline.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.