After Mya and Deanna Cook, two Black 15-year-old students at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, wore their hair in braids with extensions to school in late April, they were informed by school administrators that their hair violated the school's "Hair/Make-Up" policy and ordered to remove their extensions. When the Cook sisters refused to do so, the school imposed multiple hours of detention, and threatened to suspend them. Additionally, both girls were barred from all extra-curricular activities, including Deanna's participating on the school track team and Mya's participation on the school softball team. Mya was also banned from attending the school's upcoming prom.
Since the issue became public, there has been an outpouring of support for the Cook family and significant public pressure against the school from students, parents, community groups, our organizations, the Massachusetts Charter School Association and the Massachusetts Attorney General, who had told the school in a letter that its rules were discriminatory and in violation of both state and federal laws. On May 21, 2017, the school's trustees lifted the no-extensions ban through the end of the school year and are permitting Deanna, Mya, and other students who received similar penalties to resume all extracurricular activities.
However, the board passed up the opportunity to rescind the policy altogether, and the school has continued to defend the policy in a letter to parents. Furthermore, the school made no indication of how it would deal with past punishments handed out under the policy, including whether students' records would continue to reflect infractions of the rule. The policy should be permanently rescinded, and the school should take steps to ensure that no student is harmed in the future because of punishments received under this misguided rule.
"This policy is ignorant at best and intentionally discriminatory at worst," said NAACP Legal Defense Fund Associate Director-Counsel Janai Nelson. "Banning hair extensions clearly discriminates against Black girls, resulting in harsh and humiliating punishment simply for how they look. We are proud to represent Deanna and Mya - as well as their parents, Aaron and Colleen Cook - and we are exploring what legal actions we might take to ensure that Black students at [the school] can participate fully in the life of their school without being singled out for groundless and demeaning punishment and having their educational experience disrupted because of their race."
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice have been retained by the family of Mya and Deanna Cook.
- Buzzfeed: These Teens Were Banned From Prom And Track Because Of Their Hair So They Challenged Their School
- Malden Observer: Cook family retains NAACP, ACLU to explore legal action against Mystic Valley
- WCVB: ACLU files complaint over charter school's hairstyle policy
Hufington Post: Black Students Punished For Wearing Box Braids To School
Associated Press: ACLU Files Complaint Over Charter School's Hairstyle Policy
Photo: Deanna and Mya Cook with mother Colleen Cook