October 3, 2013

Local school would not punish for dread locks

Jessica Lane, Staff Writer,
The Express-Star


In September, a seven-year-old Tulsa girl, Tiana Parker, was sent home from school because her dreadlocks were deemed unacceptable by the school. 

The issue raises questions about what is and is not acceptable for schools to decide for the outside of their student's heads. 

Seven is the upper age range of the students at Bill Wallace Early Childhood Center, the same age as Parker.

The BWECC handbook says, "Extreme fashions and hairstyle make children self-conscious and interferes with their ability to work." 

The handbook is distributed to the parents of BWECC students, Tressia Meeks, Bill Wallace Early Childhood Center Principal, said 

However, defining what "extreme" means, is not easy. Meeks said that even at the young age of the students at BWECC, she's seen mohawks, afros, American Indian students with long braids and heads buzzed after bouts of head lice. 

Meeks said that at the age of BWECC students, "Hairstyle is a parent directed decision."

"I'd rather have a child here learning than at home getting their hair washed twenty times because their parent put something in their hair," Meeks said. 

Interim Superintendent, Pete Bush, said that while the district frowns on bright hair colors, hair is generally not an issue that the school district regulates. Bush also pointed out that a charter school, such as the one Parker attended, are going to be more structured. 

At the high school level, hair rules are pretty lenient, according to Chickasha High School Principal, Beth Edwards. 

As long as the hair does not interfere with the education process, students are given a lot of freedom in terms of hair color and style. 

Dan Turner, Chickasha Middle School Principal, said that the only restriction is that hair must be of a natural color. Turner cited bullying as the reason for the ban on colors like pink or purple. 

He said that unnatural colors impede the learning process in the classroom and that kids are opening themselves to be made fun of when they wear unnatural hair colors. However, dreadlocks, afros, mohawks and spiked hair are fine, he said. He said there has been little hair-related trouble at the school. 

As for the case in Tulsa, Turner said that while he disagrees with the policy, it is up to the school to make the rules. 

Chickasha Middle School states their ban on unnatural hair colors in their handbook. The handbook is signed by each student's parents, acknowledging that they understand and agree for their children to abide by the rules therein, Turner said. 

Turner acknowledged that hairstyles with cultural implications are a touchy subject. 

"Some cultures don't even cut their hair," Turner said.