Response to Racial Discrimination at Mystic Valley Charter School

On May 12, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice learned that Mystic Valley Charter School is disciplining of African-American schoolgirls for wearing braids. Today, we sent a letter in response to the school’s discriminatory policy.

We do so for three reasons: First, the parents in today’s article expressed concern that White students who dye their hair are not facing the same consequences as Black students with braids or extensions. This is especially troubling as the policy does not even discuss suspending students for hair/makeup violations, something that the article suggests has happened. Second, unlike the jewelry and nail polish prohibited in the school’s code, braids and extensions are worn primarily by African-American and Afro-Caribbean students, raising concerns of discriminatory treatment. Third, it is hard to understand how braiding, a deep-rooted cultural practice of people of African descent, can be put in the same category as the “drastic and unnatural hair colors” the school’s code prohibits as “distracting.”

It may be this latter concern that is the most poignant and problematic legally. Denying young black women their opportunity to express their cultural identity will not make the school safer, more orderly, or less “distracting.” It will diminish the students, and diminish their ranks. Doing this to high school students at a time when they are learning about self-expression and self-advocacy is particularly troubling. And doing this to a pair of Black twin girls who were adopted by White parents and who are exploring their racial identity is profoundly disturbing.

We understand that the school employs only one Black educator among the 156 educators listed for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. If the school endeavors to equitably serve students of color, it may wish to spend more time in the neighborhoods they live in, where braids are not distractions; they are hair.

The letter is available here, and was featured on the Boston Globe, Fox 25 News, CBS News, Wicked Local Boston, and WBUR.

Lawyers' Comm. for Civil Rights Public Records Request to Mystic Valley Charter School