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10 Times Schools Failed To Embrace Black Girl Students

"[My principal] wanted to embarrass me ... like my natural hair was ugly."

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1. When an assistant principal told this Florida high schooler her natural Afro was a violation of school rules.

WCTV / Via wctv.tv

Jenesis Johnson, an 11th-grade student at a private North Florida Christian school, in Tallahassee, Florida, was allegedly confronted in front of classmates by her teacher about her hair. According to WCTV, Johnson said that the teacher asked, "How long are you rocking that hairstyle?" Two days later, she said the assistant principal told her: "Your hair is extreme and faddish and out of control. It's all over the place." Johnson was told she was not allowed to wear her Afro at school.

"It's hurting me. For my people behind me, the younger ones, they're going to have hair like me. Why can't they wear their natural hair?" Johnson told WCTV. The school declined to comment on the news report, but Johnson's mother said the administration eventually allowed her daughter to finish the school year. However, they were told their money would be refunded for the following semester if she didn't change her hair.

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2. When this student was told to cut her hair or leave her private school.

Local 6 / Via clickorlando.com

In 2013, 12-year-old Vanessa VanDyke told Local 6 that "she was given one week to decide whether to cut her hair or leave Faith Christian Academy," a private school in Orlando, Florida. The school's handbook states that "Hair must be a natural color and must not be a distraction." VanDyke — who'd been attending the school since the third grade — said that her hair wasn't a problem with administrators until fellow students started bullying her over it. Her mother told local reporters, "There have been people teasing her about her hair, and it seems to me that they're blaming her."

VanDyke refused to change her hair. "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," she said. The local station reported that Faith Christian Academy responded by claiming that VanDyke didn't have to cut her hair but should style it "within the guidelines according to the school handbook."

3. When these twins got detention and were expelled from track, Latin club, and prom for wearing box braids.

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YouTube / Via youtube.com

Earlier this year, 15-year-old twins Mya and Deanna Cook, students at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, Massachusetts, told BuzzFeed News that they were "repeatedly punished for their hair extensions, which are against the school's dress code." In a school handbook, the dress code also stated that it prohibited "'fades' that are commonly worn by black male students, and 'Afros' that are most likely to be worn by black students (both male and female)."

In a letter to parents and guardians, Alexander Dan, the interim director of the school, stated, "We foster a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion, or materialism. ... The specific prohibition on hair extensions, which are expensive and could serve as a differentiating factor between students from dissimilar socioeconomic backgrounds, is consistent with our desire to create such an educational environment." (Totally not the point here, but you can get braiding hair for as little as $1.00 a pack, FYI.) After backlash from students, parents, and media, the Massachusetts attorney general told the school to end the ban.

4. When South African high school girls were barred from taking exams if they didn't straighten their natural hair.

Tiisetso Phetla former pupil at the school says, she experienced this #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh

Students at Pretoria High, an all-girls school in South Africa, protested last year after school rules restricted them from wearing locs or their natural hair textures. The protest was sparked when students reported that the administration told them to straighten their hair or be barred from taking school examinations. During the protest, authorities also threatened to make arrests. The protest went viral and began trending on social media with #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh.

Andrek Panyaza Lesufi, the head of education for the Gauteng province in South Africa, eventually responded, "I'm truly sorry and I can assure you that it ends here," according to News24, as reported by BuzzFeed News. "You have my support and I will protect you. Your pain will never again continue for as long as I'm still the [member of the Executive Council] in this province."

5. When school administration told this student and other girls with natural hair that their hair was "inappropriate" and "not groomed."

Facebook / Via facebook.com

Principal T. Nicola McKay of C.R. Walker Senior High School in the Bahamas admitted to local news last year that she pulled student Tayjha Deleveaux aside and told her: "My dear, your hairstyle is inappropriate. It is not groomed." McKay said the school's rules regarding hair are meant to prepare students for the professional workplace. "They simply wear a band around the hair, and they leave the middle of their hair open," McKay said, "and it is very untidy, ungroomed, unkempt, and it looks like it would have not been combed for days."

Deleveaux and her schoolmates started the hashtag #SupportThePuff and rallied support from all over the world. She told blogger Ianthia Smith that she was crying out of embarassment when her administrator first chastised her about her hair. "She wanted to embarrass me and make everyone feel like I was ugly, like my natural hair was ugly," she said. "My hairstyle has not changed even through all of this. I am not getting rid of my puff any time soon." She also said that she wanted to show other girls that you don't have to wear your hair chemically straightened to be beautiful.

6. When this mom's 8-year-old daughter was removed from her advanced class because her hair was making the teacher "sick."

YouTube / Via youtube.com

In 2010, the student's father wrote, "my daughter — who is 8 and happens to be the only brown person in her Accelerated Progress Program class at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School — was ordered out of the classroom because her teacher did not like the smell of her hair." According to the Seattle Times, the school and teacher failed to communicate to the student's parents the switch from accelerated to regular class, and they were unaware of the incident until the student told them. The father also claimed that "no one at the school or the district would answer his questions about what happened in the classroom and why." The Seattle Times also reported that the family engaged an attorney and scheduled a meeting with the school district.

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7. When a teacher allegedly lied and said this student was bullied about the smell of her hair-care product.

Facebook / Via facebook.com

Tionna Norris posted this pic of her daughter last October with a note from her teacher asking Norris to use less coconut oil in her daughter's hair because it "stinks." Norris captioned the pic, "*applies the same amount of coconut oil* y'all gone feel that black girl magic. Sincerely, unapologetically black mom. P.s. Coconut oil has no stinky smell." The photo was shared over 5,000 times, and the teacher and school eventually apologized.

"I was extremely offended and hurt for my child. To assume that the coconut oil came from her hair just because she is a natural child is ridiculous,” Norris wrote in a follow-up post on Facebook, as reported by Today.com. "Coconut oil was not used on the style and that's why I was so mad — because it was stereotypical to assume the natural girl in the class applied too much oil to her hair." Today.com reported that in an additional post Norris also wrote that the teacher admitted in a meeting that no kids actually bullied the student and that she put "stinks" in quotes because the odor was just something she wasn't used to.

8. When this student wasn't allowed to take her exams unless she straightened or "tied up" her hair.

Unathi Gongxeka was told she will not write her exams if she does not change her Afro. Read The Herald for more.

Unathi Gongxeka told South Africa's Herald she felt violated and victimized last year after teachers at her school, Lawson Brown High, allegedly told her to straighten her hair "before they attempted to tie up her Afro in order 'to make it more beautiful.'" If she didn't comply, she would not be permitted to take her examinations.

The principal, Donovan Cairncross, said that the school was enforcing a long-standing rule regarding hair and it applied to all pupils. Gongxeka refused to straighten her hair and said that she would involve her father if administrators wouldn't let her take exams. Another student told the local outlet that "I have a natural Afro, but a teacher told me I need to comb my hair because it looks like a bird's nest." After a meeting with the school's governing body and the Eastern Cape Education Department, the school suspended its code of conduct regulations regarding hair.

9. When a school expelled an elementary student for wearing her natural hair in locs.

BuzzFeed / Via buzzfeed.com

The Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, had a policy against "faddish" hair, forbidding students from wearing their hair in certain natural styles like locs and Afros, according to BuzzFeed News. In 2013, 7-year-old Tiana Parker was expelled because the school administration allegedly told her family that her "hair didn't look presentable."

"She's always presentable. I take pride in my kids looking nice," Parker's father, Terrance Parker, told KOKI, as reported by BuzzFeed News. "It hurt my feelings to the core." Parker, who's a barber, pulled his daughter out of the school and enrolled her in a new school where she could wear her natural hair.

10. When administrators told these twin sisters to remove their braids because the style didn't represent the school.

Tahbisa says the school wants her and Grace to 'look like everyone else'. Photo: Eddie Jim / The Age https://t.co/Qm6WslHCvt via @theage

Earlier this year, twin sisters Grace and Tahbisa were allegedly removed from their classes at Bentleigh Secondary College in Melbourne because their box braids "[don't] represent the school," according to the Age Victoria. The twins told the outlet that they'd been wearing their hair in braids since they were babies, and the school was attacking their African culture. "They are asking us to look like everyone else," said Grace.

In an effort to justify its ruling, the school said that "white students who have returned from holidays in Bali have also been asked to remove their braids or cornrows." Tahbisa responded that the two instances are very different, and the latter is cultural appropriation. Grace and Tahbisa, who have been attending the school since they were 7, said their braids had not been an issue until this year. After pushback from the twins — and the internet — the school said it is "comfortable with students expressing their cultural heritage and will allow the girls to wear the braids as an exception," according to Yahoo News.

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