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The  Toledo Public School System has experienced the chopping block on more than one occasion; choosing to close schools, merge districts, and eliminate programs. Since these decisions have been made over the last few years, parents have removed their children from TPS and have placed them in the rising number of charter schools and private schools.

A student of a local private school, Central Catholic High School, was taken out of the registration line because of her choice in hair styles.  She was told her hair style was unacceptable. A chemical free, female student, who is also a Senior, is being challenged in her  final year of high school because she wears Sisterlocks. She was told she would have to remove her 3 week old locks before returning to school Monday. Sisterlocks are a type of hair locks that is extremely small and resembles loose hair. No extensions are placed in the hair to wear this style and it is maintained regularly with careful cleansing and grooming.

Informed that a policy was put in place sometime this year, was supposed to ease the discomfort and feelings of being stereotyped and segregated this student and her family has to endure. Now, based on this “new” policy that forbids the wearing of dreadlocks or twistys in the hair, this family must decide on the future of their child’s education.  There are a lot of decisions  to make in this regard. Should the family comply and cut the young lady’s hair off? If so, how would they feel and how would she feel about the education she is receiving, and what she had to do in order to receive this top notch education? Also, how will this affect her for the rest of the year, among her peers, friends, and the reflection she will see in the mirror?

What if the family decides to remove her from the school? Will this be a bad decision, given the current status of public schools, the gaping holes within the charter schools and the fact that Catholic Schools have  a waiting list that is virtually impenetrable, even if she is a current student within the Catholic Education System? It seems as if this is a no win situation, and the family’s hands are tied. One way or another, they will be forced to sacrifice a good education or their moral beliefs and practices, and personal expressions of culture. The high school sits in an area populated with African American families, although that wasn’t always the case. The school receives State funding through Ed Choice as well as those who are able to pay tuition.

Just a note to educators, having an African American or Afro club and a Gospel Choir doesn’t encompass African or Ethnic culture. There is more to “Afrocentricism” than singing “Follow the drinking gourd” and having a 7 year old recite the “I have a Dream” speech. There is more to being black than having an old school jam, dancing the hustle and singing “Funky cold medina” while violently fist pumping in the school gym.

Take it from Mississippi teen, Patrick Richardson a 16 year old student who was banned from taking his best friend to the school homecoming because of his hair style which was dreadlocks.  Although, this was not a rule in the student handbook, the Principal took him aside to inform him that if he did not cut his hair, he would not be permitted to participate in the homecoming court. He along with another male student with locks, were denied access to a school dance based on a then, unwritten policy. The complete story can be found here.

According to Central Catholic’s philosophy,

Central Catholic High School exists to extend the ministry of Jesus Christ who dwells among us to serve and not to be served, to forgive and not to sit in judgment, to give witness to the truth of the Father’s love through the power of the Spirit….

 •We respect the dignity of each person and are richer because of the diversity of cultural heritage and religious

expression.

 

The current school policy on hair styles is found on pages 40-41. This document can be downloaded for free.

For general hairstyles:

Dreadlocks or “twisty” hairstyles are not acceptable. Hair carvings are not permitted. Hair color is to be of one of the original colors. No hairstyle is to call attention to itself. Spikes and Mohawks are strictly forbidden. No
exaggerated hairstyles. The AP/Dean will make the final ruling on hairstyles and colors.

Further along, for Gentlemen it reads:

6) Hair is to be neat, clean, properly combed, does not extend beyond the bottom of the collar or in some way obscures a student’s face. (No dreadlocks) If a student dyes his hair, it is to be of only one traditional color.
The AP/Dean is the final judge of what is acceptable. No exaggerated hairstyles.

9) All men will be clean-shaven with sideburns no longer than the bottom of their earlobes.

 

If this policy were true, the number of White male students with shaggy hair, longer than the collar,  and whisping across their faces would be as much of an issue as a student of any color who chooses to wear dreadlocks. If you look at athletic photos, you will see for yourself. Let’s keep in mind that it states that locks are unacceptable while mo-hawks are forbidden. Dreadlocks aren’t really dreadful, but unfortunately, the Black community itself, is to blame for this term being made to locks whether clean or dirty. It was long said that locks were likened to unclean, filthy living and that grooming was almost against the religious law. We have ourselves, created the negative perceptions of hair locking due to the lack of knowledge and understanding.

Community Reaction. The Facebook pages are alive, filled with comments from the concerned to the rebellious. Twila Page, Toledo resident, Parent, Student Advocate, and Community Activist, stated, ” I am a Catholic having been in the Catholic Church 45 years or more; graduated from Canton Central Catholic and put one daughter through Catholic school for 12 years, so I think I know a little about Catholicism and don’t think the scriptures would support “these” Catholics.”

Ms. Page, along with several other parents and  residents contacted the Principal, Michael J.  Kaucher, who stated that that he wasn’t meeting with the African American Parents’ Association, Ms. Page,  or anybody else; and that they are a PRIVATE school and can make their own rules. As the day progressed, calls were being screened and Mr. Kaucher could not be reached. People are continuing to leave messages on the school website as well as voice mails, and some have contacted the local media about this.Crystal Taylor stated that she contacted Toledo’s main newspaper, The Blade, which just weeks ago, featured her along with several other women from Toledo who wear their hair in a natural style.

Legally, because the school has adopted a written policy in regard to hair locking, it would not be a legal matter, but rather a matter which challenges the school’s philosophy on preserving each student’s dignity, accepting their cultural heritage and religious expressions. Because how can a school state that it is a Catholic/Christian School that accepts students of other religious backgrounds, and simultaneously prohibits those who for instance, could be Rastafarian (black or white) and wear hair locks as an expression of their religious beliefs?

A concerned resident contacted the school secretary who stated that locks were unacceptable, but braids and those with extensions are acceptable.

Picking our battles. This is where the choosing of battles commences. It is perceived that the school administrators and staff will be bombarded with finger snapping, lip smackin’ eye rollin’ hip holdin’ women who have every right intention, but must tell them off. And they can expect the Black Brothas to come and try to reason with them, citing civil rights and history facts, and to each, they have their right to address this issue however they see fit. But there is also another “ram in the bush” emerging. A way to improve the crippled Toledo Public School System.

As parents, we are quick to remove our child from a school because they aren’t learning, excelling, growing, or active in culture awareness. We find solutions in taking from one and adding to another, but rarely find ways to make things work where we are. We do it at home. We find a way to do everything we need to do with what we have, but when it comes to a structured (or supposed-to-be structured) organization, like church or school-we exit the building the first opportunity we get. Supposing it is because schools and churches are EXPECTED to be well rounded in the curriculum and Ministry they offer, not tailoring it to suit one race, creed or group.

What we can do when someone has a negative idea about natural hair or locking is to be educated in what natural hair is, the basics, and reiterate that even if it is not a personal choice of ours, that we respect everyone’s right to wear their hair the way they please.

This is as much convicting as it is empowering. In the wake of the recent local media coverage in regard to natural hair, writers have captured various aspects of “The Black Experience” by discussing the social history of Black Women, who were told everything they were not, could not and will not be; to sharing the knowledge about the real, true characteristics of natural hair, and how versatile AND healthy it is. Articles, websites, news blurbs, Youtube channels, have all played a role in raising cultural awareness by empowering the Black Woman to embrace her natural hair as an organically beautiful thing. Accepting their hair as a crown and viewing themselves as Queens,has grown among young girls who have been told they will only be young mothers and welfare recipients.

Now is the time for the community to come together, not to march about Afros and Black Power, but to educate others, including Blacks who refuse to listen or understand the natural of unaltered, black hair. Moreover, the community can now find ways to incorporate Cultural Awareness through African Dance, Drumming, Swahili, basket weaving, hair braiding, head wrapping, music, art, sculpting, gardening, and poetry in the current, drab curriculum. The vast majority of Central Catholic Students are Black. A great number of students and teachers in Toledo Public Schools are Black. There is nothing anyone can do about that, for those who wish they could. But there are ways to improve the ailing public schools, even when the Private schools, who, by the way, receive an impressive amount of funding from the government who provides scholarships to the less fortunate in order for them to receive a better quality of education. They gladly receive those funds and accept students of all walks of life, but fail to adhere to their own philosophy by overtly discriminating against certain students because of their choice in hairstyles.

Toledo Public Schools do not have to be forgotten, especially when so many schools make odd choices in their governing of the school, its policies and philosophies. You have Charter schools that don’t check student shot records and past curriculum, they just accept kids and place them wherever they fit. And you have private schools who dictate what is good and acceptable and right, and throw God in the mix as a drawing factor, then leave him out of the governing of the school. You have private schools that make students and parents feel as though their child is only worth admission because they received a scholarship, and that they don’t have the wherewithal to achieve high marks and be accepted into private schools based on their own merit. You have all of these things going on, and for once, in all that ruckus, there is [possibly] a light for the school system that remains.

I admonish TPS school officials, in conjunction with the Community and State, to adopt new ways of educating our youth according to the demographics and specific needs of our children.

Elementary schools need to incorporate Foreign language! They need to at least teach French and Spanish, the 2 most commonly spoken languages other than English in the US. TPS needs to have an all special needs school that is designed for the safety and optimal learning experience of the developmentally disabled and the physically challenged. Within, there can be classes for sign language and sensory rooms, activities the students can be proud of, and there would be a boost in the moral of those students. The teasing would decrease. Each school should also have in house tutors who work with those who are not necessarily special needs, but need help with literacy and comprehension.

Schools should have more than traditional music, folk songs and patriotic tunes. They need to learn songs in different languages, and put on plays that showcase other cultures. They need to have culturally diverse electives like Mexican Hat Dancing, Salsa, African Dance, and Martial Arts. This would help employ a more diverse staff and boost moral and cultural awareness of all students who attend.

The food needs to reflect cultural and religious beliefs, and the schools should embrace the varied diversities represented for more than just Black History Month and Cinco de Mayo. But who is going to push for this and who will listen?

The student and her Mother have spoken with the school Principal who has referred them to the Dean who has yet to respond. They do not plan to take her hair down and if the student is allowed to attend this year, she intends on utilizing the Afro Club, which she is the President of, as a Platform to educate others about natural hair.

Natural hair dates back centuries, and was deemed unacceptable at some point in history. But it still has always been something the Black woman could OWN. Unaltered, she was free and today is free again, to wear her own texture in any fashion because she realized somewhere along the way that she CAN.

The family requests that no protests or calls be made to the school until they are able to meet with officials.