School is generally an institution designed to prepare society’s new members, in this case, children, to fit into the overall work community they will eventually have to be a part of. It, therefore, stands to be noticed that rules and regulations are all the rage in this socialization process. As one can imagine, the differences in regulations are as varied as there are schools.
One mother and her unfortunate son found this uncomfortable truth out a while back at a Texas public school when she enrolled the lead on day one of kindergarten.
A four-year-old, Jabez Oates, who happens to be Ms. Jessica Oates’ son was treated to the unkindest treatment any newcomer would dread when he was barred from public school because of his locks – locks that had grown so long over four years!
The appropriately named, Barbers Hill Kindergarten Center in Mont Belvieu, Texas deems it of utmost importance that each of their charges has a personal relationship with a barber – or at least, his machine!
Merely from the wording of the document bearing their dress code regulations, the aversion to hair can be deemed quite apparent. Geometric and unusual patterns, including Mohawks, faux hawks and any other elaborate designs a creative mind might conjure are forbidden.
The Board at Barbers Hill also makes it clear that they do not fancy unnaturally colored hair much and that they have, only a mild tolerance for ribbons or other hair accessories, which they insist must be in only in good taste – whatever that should mean. The boys are warned firmly against ‘inappropriate’ hairstyles.
Little Jabez, however, found himself in contravention of a rule which demanded that “Boy’s hair will not extend below the eyebrows, below the ear lobes, or below the top of a t-shirt collar. Cornrows and or dreadlocks are permitted if they meet the aforementioned lengths.” The rule went further to ‘outlaw’ ponytails or more generally tails for male pupils.
His twenty-five-year-old mother, Jessica told TODAY.com that her son who has never had a haircut since he was born is stuck at home in limbo because of the strict dress code enforced by all the public schools in the district where Mont Belvieu is situated.
Jabez’s hair is simply too long for the permissible dress code for boys!
The single mother admits that she was informed when she brought her long-haired son in for class last Thursday that she could file for an exemption for cultural reasons – only to be told barely a day later that there would be no provision for her child.
This uncharacteristic exemption it would appear is meant to be in keeping with the First Amendment that asserts that no law is to be made in keeping with or against the dictates of a particular faith or creed. Therefore, it would appear that Nazirites, Rastafarians, and others are accepted. But wait for it … only at the discretion of the district board! And this fact must be made in appropriate writing.
“He’s never had a haircut. It’s just kind of a part of his identity,” said Oates emphatically, going on to cite the fact that she was told that would need a letter citing cultural or religious reasons as to why she cannot cut her boy’s hair.
Make no mistake, the child’s hair is actually well-kept – neater than a number of people’s hair on any day but unfortunately for him, rules are rules! And they have to be followed to the letter, especially so, in this Texan district.
Jessica tried to circumvent the stringent rule requiring her infant’s hair to be above the eyebrows and above the top of a t-shirt collar by twisting the length of it in a man-bun when she brought Jabez on a Monday morning but the authorities would not budge an inch.
“My son was confused by the whole thing,” the senior Oates told TODAY Parents. “He asked me, ‘Mommy, why can’t I go see my teacher? Mommy, why can’t I see my friends?’” So we even went inside the kindergarten to talk it over with the principal but that just made it worse…
Other parents had even begun wondering why she was so insistent on having her son keep his locks.
According to Jessica, she had originally underestimated the impact the altercation with the school authorities had had on her boy whom she says he became sulky and has been very angry since that Monday. She willfully and squarely lays the blame for it all on the callous school authorities who have tormented her ‘smart and very observant little boy’.
Now, Jessica is in a heated battle with the school to get her son back in class, claiming his hair should not be an issue. The senior Oates says cutting Jabez’s hair just to capitulate to Barbers Hill Kindergarten Center is not an option because it is so much of her son’s self-identity. The school’s board also maintains that admitting Jabez just to appease a single parent is untenable and not to be expected.
“At this point, it has turned into more than a hair thing in this community, and I have gotten support from people who have been bullied here themselves,” said Oates rather combatively. She has already launched an online petition to gather necessary support and momentum and is also trying to rope in the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“I don’t feel like I am just fighting for myself and my own kid,” the twenty five-year-old contends, matter-of-factly.
In a closed community such as exists in the city of Mont Belvieu, such a stand is rarely supported by many, if any. As such, Jessica has been treated to mostly uninterested glares from some parents and has also received vitriolic responses from others.
“I’ve been told…and it makes me so angry…we have been told to jump off a cliff,” Oates said uneasily while stifling a grimace. “I’ve been told that I and my son (sic) shall have a target on our backs and we’re going to be ostracized. And most of the hatred has come from adults” It is easy to assume that this city of four thousand is just not ready to put up with less traditional hairstyles and related alternative forms of self-expression.
Kinder parents have merely asked her why she cannot just cut it (the hair, they mean) and to be honest, their sense of puzzlement is understandable when juxtaposed with the attitude of the entire community. Ms. Oates, however, insists that she does not believe short hair should be a requirement for getting an education.
“That’s who he is. I don’t believe in it. I will not cut his hair,” the mom said. “I feel like my son is owed the same education that all other children in this school district have.”
The school district released a stern and unequivocal statement to NBC News defending its policy as a staple of a ‘rigorous educational environment of high expectations for (local residents’) children.’ Then they went a little further…
“Parents have a right to seek an appropriate educational setting for their child, just as Ms. Oates has the right to place her child in a district that reflects her personal expectations for the standards of appearance,” the statement reads. “There are procedures in place for addressing concerns over policy if it is Ms. Oates’ desire to have her son educated in Barbers Hill ISD. But we would and should justifiably be criticized if our district lessened its expectations or long-standing policies simply to appease.”
A representative for the school board also confirmed Jessica’s earlier admission when she said that all parents sign a ‘Student Handbook Acknowledgement Form’ that includes the Dress Code policy at registration. This is supposed to indicate that the parent has read, understood and agreed to the dictates in the document, on the behalf of their minor, who happens to be the prospective pupil at the nursery school.
Therefore, Jessica having signed that document put herself in a tight position both legally and morally – unless she can claim not to have understood it. But even then, her knowledge of the exemptions puts to rest her presumed limited understanding of the wording.
In an email, the representative went on to further elucidate, “Barbers Hill ISD has in place a policy for dress code exemptions for religious reasons and has granted an exemption to students in the past two who have supplied documentation that was approved by the Board of Trustees. This information was communicated with the parent at registration.”
To compound her woes, Ms. Oates has not written to the board to voice her objections, most probably because they are likely to consider and tolerate only religious and maybe cultural exemptions anyway.SuperRank
Oates’ struggles come in the wake of a similar battle that is being fought by a Nigerian-American parent, Faye Abunijimeh whose nine-year-old was also banned from school over his long hair. This was in the same state but in Joshua, just outside Dallas in the Northeast.
Her son, Habib, had been growing out his curly hair to reach the necessary twelve-inch length recommended for donation to cancer patients by a charity. The charity itself is called Wigs for Kids according to CBS Dallas-Fort Worth.
Habib could have been able to go around Barbers Hill’s regulations by sporting an Afro but not with his own elementary school, whose ruled culled all such loopholes. As of Monday, the nine-year-old has had to attend class with a braid, which is a temporary window he has exploited in the Joshua Independent School Board Policy.
But Oates, says she is afraid that even if she finds a similar way to get her son back to his preferred school, it will only be a hollow victory. This is because he will eventually have to unplait his cornrows and reveal his longer than stipulated hair.
“Even if I win, and Jabez gets to attend that kindergarten,” she mused. “How do I send him to a school where people are going to potentially emotionally torment him?” Surely, this is a conundrum she will have to carry through to the full end, hopefully, with the help of the ACLU.
We would, however, like to know what you make of Jessica’s stance? Do you think the School Board is right? Is there a chance for a harmonious solution to this dilemma?
Please tell us what you think and SHARE any other examples of similar situations in the COMMENTS section below. Cheers!
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