South Dakota high school says Black student must cut his hair for dress code – USA TODAY

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Administrators at a South Dakota high school told 14-year-old freshman Braxton Schafer’s parents on Friday that he must cut his hair or leave the school.
Braxton, who is Black, wears his hair in traditional African twists known as locs. The length of his hair hasn’t been an issue before, his mother Toni Schafer told The Argus Leader on Sunday. He has been in the Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools system since sixth grade, first attending St. Mary for sixth grade, then grades seven and eight at the junior high school.
The current uniform code specifies that boys’ hair length must be above the collar.
“We don’t necessarily agree with the rule,” Derrick Schafer, Braxton’s father and Toni’s husband, said. “We think it’s culturally biased.”
School policy dictates the length of students’ hair, not the style or culture, Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools president Kyle Groos told the Argus Leader on Saturday.
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“Can students wear dreadlocks? Yes, they can,” Groos said. “We simply want the length of the hair to be at the collar or right above the collar. Right there is what we ask for. To be clean, neat and well-cared for.”
Chloe Goldade, public information officer for the Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools system, said Braxton was among “upwards of about 20 male students asked to comply” with the policy since Aug. 18.
The dress code policy at O’Gorman is reviewed every five years, and was last updated in 2018, Groos said.
“Obviously, some people may or may not agree with (the policy),” Groos said. “But as for us as a Catholic school, we have our expectations as parents when they enroll, understanding what our handbook and what it expresses on dress code. It’s not like it hasn’t been reviewed.”
Toni said Braxton isn’t willing to speak about his hair yet because it’s been hard for him.
“It’s incredibly stressful, and he feels kind of like an outsider anyways, because when you’re one of very few (Black students), and I think he might be the only one there with locs, he’s devastated, basically,” Toni said. “He wanted to stay because he likes his friends.”
On Wednesday, Toni said she was approached by an assistant principal at the high school at an open house. The administrator was debating whether he should say something or not, but told Toni that he felt Braxton’s hair was too long, Toni said.
“I said it was cultural; it’s been that way,” Toni said. On Thursday morning, Toni said she emailed high school principal Joan Mahoney asking to discuss Braxton’s hair in a meeting with Derrick.
Braxton plays in the drumline in the marching band and plays on the football team. Toni said Mahoney called her on Thursday night during the game to tell her the length of Braxton’s hair is the issue, not Braxton’s culture as a Black student with locs.
Mahoney agreed to have Toni and Derrick come to the school on Friday to meet about Braxton’s hair. They discussed how Braxton has had the same hair in sixth, seventh and eighth grade while the current policy was in place without there being an issue, Derrick said.
“It was always cultural,” Derrick said. “We were concerned with the timing of them bringing this up, because the school year had already started. When this was being discussed with us, it seemed like there were a lot of other opportunities to have that discussion.”
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Braxton’s parents discussed compromises to the policy with administrators, such as putting Braxton’s locs up in an updo so it wouldn’t be touching his collar, but they say administrators told them they couldn’t do “man buns” anymore, which is not explicitly stated in current dress code policy.
What makes locs significant is their length, Toni said, noting that length is “actually the important piece to the whole style.”
“It’s not the actual loc itself; it’s the length, and the strength, spirituality and power, it’s all in the length,” Toni said.
Toni referenced the biblical story of Samson to the administrators, a man whose seven locs were said to be the source of his power and strength, and his commitment to the Lord.
Administrators again asked Toni and Derrick to make Braxton follow the policy, and they replied that Braxton would not be cutting his hair. They requested at a minimum that Braxton could finish the semester with his hair so that he wouldn’t miss out on freshman football and marching band.
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By Saturday afternoon, the school emailed the Schafers to let them know that because administrators hadn’t “addressed” Braxton’s hair length in junior high school, they would allow Braxton to finish the semester so he can compete in his activities. Derrick said Braxton will transfer out of Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools after this fall semester is up.
“When I saw (Braxton’s) face when we told him what (the administrators) said, it’s just really hard,” Toni said.
Toni and her two oldest sons, Teegan and Drake Schafer, are all O’Gorman alumni. Toni and Derrick are left wondering about the timing of the decision administrators made to tell Braxton to cut his hair, and left wishing their son could have had a normal school year.
“The problem is, it’s being arbitrarily applied,” Derrick said. “He’s been in the system for three years with the same length hair. We’re confused on why it’s become an issue now. Why? They’ve had plenty of chances to discuss it with us.”
“They’ve made it so we don’t have options,” Toni added, noting they wish Braxton would have had a fair shot at starting at a new school, participating in activities and having a normal freshman year without having to cut his hair.

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