A group of black students at the School for Creative Studies in Durham, N.C., could not imagine how much controversy would be sparked when they decided to wear head wraps to class for Black History Month.
Afiya Carter says her 15-year-old daughter and her fellow classmates were threatened with suspension after administrators warned that they were in violation of the dress code.
According to the cited policy, “hats, caps, hoods, sweat bands and bandannas or other head wear worn inside [the] school building” are impermissible, with no exceptions being made for garments worn in with cultural or religious significance.
Monday, parents gathered at the school to chant in protest against Durham County Schools’ dress code policy.
“This is not right. This is not fair. We will not stand for it,” Carter says. “This is about supporting these young people and letting them know that their cultural expression is something to be valued, and value other people’s cultural expressions.”
“It says to me symbolically that our girls — and our boys, as well — have to alter not only their attire, but their whole selves in order to seem less disruptive or offensive,” said Dosali Reed-Bandele, whose daughter was among those reprimanded. “This is utterly ridiculous and I am tired of those messages bombarding our babies day in and day out.”
School authorities are now denying they threatened the students with disciplinary action, and the district says that after meeting with the students, the principal decided to allow the young women to wear headwraps — also known as African geles — as an instructional tool.
Durham County School Superintendent, Dr. Bert L’Homme, responded with the following statement:
“I have heard the concerns of parents and community members who feel our policy prohibiting hats and head wear is too strict or that it infringes on student’s cultural expression.
I understand their concerns and assure them that I will share their thoughts with the committee that is currently reviewing and suggesting revisions to our Code of Student Conduct.
In the meantime, I appreciate both the initiative shown by the young women at SCS and the school’s willingness to give these student leaders an opportunity to incorporate their ideas into a school-wide program. The gele, its history and how to wear it are now part of the school’s Black History Month activities for both middle school and high school students.
I can also tell you that SCS had an extensive schedule of Black History Month programs already. Daily seminars for high school students and other activities in middle school. But after meeting with the young women and incorporating their ideas, they’ve added themed Mondays and a Black History announcement as part of the morning messages. The members of the Young Women of Excellence group will be the ones making those announcements.”
“I hope that my daughter and the other girls learn that you should not alter who you are to fit in or assimilate to society’s so-called standards and that it’s perfectly on point to stand up for what you know is right,” said Reed-Bandele. “It is your birthright to be who the Creator made you to be.”