Malden Charter School Ordered to End Discriminatory Policy That Punishes Students for Wearing Hair Extensions


On Friday, the state attorney general of Massachusetts ordered the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, located in the city of Malden, to end its punitive ban on hair extensions, a racist policy that disproportionately targets black and biracial students. The AG found the policy to be discriminatory and unevenly enforced, according to the Boston Globe.

Mystic Valley’s dress code prohibits hair extensions on grounds that they are “distracting” to fellow students. The policy also, incredibly, bans hair that exceeds two inches in thickness or height, which would rule out most afros, and lots of hair styles and types that deviate from straight and limp.

The demand to do away with the exclusionary rule was delivered to Mystic Valley in the form of a letter from the chief of the AG office’s civil rights division, Genevieve Nadeau, who wrote:

“These styles are not simply fashion choices or trends, but, in addition to occurring naturally in many cases, can be important expressions of racial culture, heritage, and identity…. To the extent that certain provisions of [Mystic Valley’s] policy have the purpose or effect of singling out students of color, they are clearly unlawful.”

The rule first made headlines earlier this month when two 15-year-old black students, twins Deanna and Mya Cook, were banned from the school’s track team, Latin Club, and prom for wearing hair extensions. When the girls refused to take out their braided extensions, they were reportedly administered detentions on a daily basis.

The Cook sisters’ adoptive parents, Colleen and Aaron Cook, are white, and Mya told CBS Boston last week that wearing braided extensions to school made her feel, “really exciting to be celebrating my culture because I have white parents and it’s very important to participate in the culture.”

Colleen Cook told CBS that she too is enraged by the school’s decisions. “I’m angry, I feel like my children are beautiful, they’re black, they should be proud of themselves, I’m very proud of them,” Cook said.

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the state’s education department over the ban, on behalf of Deanna and Mya Cook.

The spokesperson for Mystic Valley, Alexander Dan, had very little to say about the AG’s order, even for a spokesperson: “We are in receipt of the letter from the attorney general’s office, and it will be reviewed by the board of trustees at a meeting that has been called for Sunday night.”

In an earlier statement, a Mystic Valley spokesperson claimed that the purpose of the ban was to, “promote equity by focusing on what unites our students and reducing visible gaps between those of different means,” and that hair extensions, “tend to be very expensive.”

Matthew Cregor, director of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice Education Project suggested in a separate letter sent to Mystic Valley’s interim director earlier this month that the school’s hiring practices are discriminatory as well, seeing as only one of its 156 teachers is black.

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