School rebuked for its hair policy

Far from promoting equity, this is a textbook case of racial bias

Mystic Valley Regional Charter School claims that the ban on braided hair extensions, which it calls expensive, is a strategy to promote equity by reducing visible differences in means (“Black Malden charter students punished for hair,” Page A1, May 12). This is a clear demonstration of conflating the concepts of equality and equity. Equality means everyone is allocated the same amount, while equity means examining the relative circumstances of different groups and adjusting accordingly. Far from promoting equity, this policy actually furthers racial inequity, as it disproportionately and negatively affects black students.

This is an example of institutionalized racial inequity. The staff of Mystic Valley is overwhelmingly white. Without adequate representation at the leadership level, school policies cannot be truly equitable, since the perspectives, experiences, and realities of black students and families are not equally heard. Regardless of the intent behind the ban on hair extensions, it unjustly and harmfully affects black students, and that is racial discrimination.

The twins cited in Kay Lazar’s article have served multiple detentions and could be suspended for this hairstyle, despite its having no proven effect on their learning or the learning of others. Policies such as this one criminalize minor transgressions of school rules. Suspending students and rebutting the concern of their families furthers the criminalization of youth of color, a tragic consequence of racial inequity. We hope that Mystic Valley will reverse this policy and the unjust discipline of the affected students, and use this as an opportunity to have open and directed dialogue about race, racism, and racial equity at the school.

Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, president and CEO

YW Boston

Stiff penalties for students of color have severe implications

I was appalled, but not surprised, to learn that young black and biracial students are once again being targeted for unequal treatment at the hands of school officials, this time at a Malden charter school (“Black Malden charter students punished for hair,” Page A1, May 12).

These misguided attempts to stamp out culture or overpolice black and brown bodies result in children of color experiencing school in radically different ways than their peers. The paltry excuse put forward by the school’s leadership that hair extensions highlight inequities is ridiculous and is emblematic of irresponsible and uninformed educational leadership. So is the notion that wearing one’s hair the way it grows out of many people’s head is a distraction.


Thank goodness the Malden girls who said they are being treated unfairly because of their hair have role models in high places. They need look no further than political activist and retired university professor Angela Davis, actress Amandla Stenberg, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, Grammy winner Lauryn Hill, and filmmaker Ava DuVernay for examples of accomplished women who do not conform to mainstream standards in the way they style their hair.


The penalties these young women are facing are severe. Recent research has found that black students in Massachusetts are missing inordinate days of instruction because of suspensions over minor issues. These kinds of disciplinary measures put students on the fast track to failure: poor achievement, lower graduation rates, and inevitably the school-to-prison pipeline.

Let’s keep our hands out of kids’ hair, especially when the styles are part of the observance of their faith or culture. We should just focus on broadening students’ minds because they’ll grow up to be adults with broadened minds.

John H. Jackson, president and CEO

The Schott Foundation for Public Education

School wants to promote success, but its own policy stands in way

It is outrageous that Mystic Valley Regional Charter School disciplines young black women for wearing hair extensions (“Rights groups criticize school over hair policy,” Page A1, May 13). What the administration is doing is ensuring that many black girls will spend precious morning hours managing their hair instead of preparing for their classes.

The alternative to hair extensions or wigs for many black women, whose hair grows up, not down, as student Kiryannah Burkett explained in the article, is to apply costly oils and other hair treatment every morning as they groom their hair to look “presentable.” My niece, who is African, considers that the investment in extensions is the more economical and, by far, less time-consuming choice.

There are objections that the school’s policies “trample on students’ cultural heritage.” But what seems at the heart of this matter is that, instead of focusing on policies that promote the success of all its students, the school’s administration is choosing to unnecessarily add impediments to the success of some.

Nora Huvelle, Belmont