There are lots of reasons a student might get distracted in school, but I never thought a student’s natural hair would be one of them.
Turns out I was wrong.
At Faith Christian Academy, a private school in Orlando, Fla., 12-year-old Vanessa VanDyke’s natural “puffy” hair was deemed a violation of the school’s official dress code which states, “Hair must be a natural color and must not be a distraction.” Van Dyke’s hair, they said, falls under the “distraction” category. The third grade student was given one week to cut or straighten her hair or be expelled from school.
“I’m depressed about leaving my friends and people that I’ve known for a while but I’d rather have that than the principals and administrators picking on me and saying that I should change my hair,” said VanDyke.
The threat came after Van Dyke’s parents contacted the school because their daughter had been bullied and teased about her hair. If you ask me, bullying is a way bigger distraction to a student than natural hair.
Luckily Van Dyke has way thicker skin than most. Speaking about her hair she said: “It says that I’m unique. First of all, it’s puffy and I like it that way.”
This type of confidence, in the face of bullies no less, is something that should be celebrated, not penalized.
After Van Dyke’s story made international news, Faith Academy revoked its expulsion threat and is letting her stay in school.
Still, what message did Faith Academy send its students by their actions? Not only did they fail to address the bullying issues going on, but they also reinforced narrow beauty standards in a world where women and girls feel tremendous pressure to be beautiful.
Earlier this fall in September Tiana Parker, a 7-year-old from Tulsa, Okla., was sent home in tears because her dreadlocks were not “presentable.” The school said that Parker’s hair could “distract from the respectful and serious atmosphere it strives for.” The school has since reversed its policy, but Parker’s parents asserted that she would not be going back to the school.
In addition to the bullying and beauty implications of what has happened to Parker and Van Dyke, there is also the racial component. Dreadlocks and afros are hairstyles that are almost exclusively worn by black people and have historical ties to the black community.
In both cases these schools are sending the message that natural black hair is inferior because it’s “distracting,” not “respectful” or “serious.” This is not the message that we want young girls, or anyone else for that matter, receiving.
You can tell Faith Academy that African American hairstyles aren’t distracting by signing our petition here.
Photo Credit: Facebook/WKMG Local 6