The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has sent a letter to the Florida Department of Education this month asking that it ban schools from enforcing racist policies that prohibit Black students from wearing certain hairstyles, such as dreadlocks, Afros and braids. The letter was sent following a Huffington Post investigation into the issue.
The HuffPost investigation found that at least 20 percent of private schools participating in Florida’s Hope Scholarship Program have strict hair policies that infringe on the rights of Black students to wear natural hair styles. For example, six schools ban or regulate dreadlocks, Afros and braids. The NAACP LDF cites this data, blasting the policies for being either “discriminatory on their face” or stating they “may lead to discriminatory application against African-American students.”
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The Florida Hope Scholarship is a voucher program that gives publicly funded scholarships to kids who have experienced bullying. However, many of the schools that participate in this program either ban LGBTQ students or have strict hair policies that disproportionately affect African-American students, according to Huffington Post.
The investigation started after video of a 6-year-old student being turned away from aprivate school in Florida went viral. The student, Clinton Stanley Jr., sported dreadlocks. The school, A Book’s Christian Academy, bans such hairstyles in its handbook.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund letter calls on certain listed schools to create new hair policies in consultation with community members, saying these schools should be inclusive and commit to providing cultural competency training for faculty and staff. The letter also asks the Department of Education to review hair policies at listed schools and request that any that are discriminatory are rescinded.
Florida school voucher programs ban discrimination based on race. But, hair policies aren’t covered under that ban and can constitute a type of discrimination.
“The forms of racial discrimination most commonly seen in education have evolved. It is now rare to find a policy that explicitly excludes potential students based on skin color,” the NAACP Legal Defense Fund writes in its letter. “However, subtle rules and restrictions based on racial stereotypes and proxies have the same force and effect.”
Representatives of the Florida Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund asked the state to respond to its letter within 10 days.