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Massachusetts School Suspends Hair Policy After Pressure From State AG

A Massachusetts high school will now allow 15-year-old twins to attend prom and participate in after-school activities after initially reprimanding them for wearing braided extensions.

Mya and Deanna Cook were given detention and barred from track meets and Latin club for wearing their hair in braids, which was a violation of the school’s dress code policy.

Mystic Valley Regional Charter School board members voted on Sunday to rescind the policy for the remainder of the school year after pressure from the state attorney general’s office.

“We will work collaboratively with the Attorney General’s office to make sure that the policy is consistent with our long-standing commitment to the rights of all our students,” the school said.

Image: Aaron, Mya, Deanna, and Colleen Cook
Aaron, Mya, Deanna, and Colleen Cook. Courtesy of the Cook family

The state found three parts of the school’s hair policy “unlawful,” including regulations on hair that is more than two inches in thickness and height; shaved lines or shaved sides; and hair extensions.

The sisters, who received 16 detentions for the violations but did not serve all of them, viewed the guideline as “discriminatory” and an affront to their heritage.

Related: OpEd: The Punishment of Deanna and Mya Cook is Much Bigger Than Braids

In a letter to parents posted on Mystic Valley’s website, the school said it is not permanently altering its dress code but will review it for the upcoming school year. The school acknowledged state recommendations while also defending the rule.

Image: Mya, Deanna, Mekhi, and Colleen Cook
Mya, Deanna, Mekhi, and Colleen Cook rally outside of Mystic Valley Regional Charter School while school board members meet inside over hair policy. May 21, 2017. Colleen Cook

“Some have asserted that our prohibition on artificial hair extensions violates a ‘cultural right,’ but that view is not supported by the courts, which distinguish between policies that affect a person’s natural ‘immutable’ characteristics and those that prohibit practices based on changeable cultural norms,” the school said.

Protesters gathered outside as administration officials voted to temporarily suspend the policy on Sunday evening.

Their chants turned into cheers a day later when they learned of the decision.

The girls’ mother, Colleen Cook, said she’s relieved her daughters can now focus on their studies, but she’s concerned for other students disciplined because of the policy. She wants to see their records wiped clean, too.

“Our fight is not over until the policy is permanently removed,” she said. “We will not stop until our goals are met.”

Related: Massachusetts Charter School Ordered by State AG to Stop Enforcing Hair Policy

Some praised the school’s action in light of the controversy.

“The Board took the right action to suspend its discriminatory policy, and now needs to rescind it permanently,” executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association Marc Kenen said in a statement. “We are proud of the two young women, Deanna and Mya Cook, and their parents, for standing up for themselves and their rights.”

Image: Members of the Congressional Black Caucus sent this card to Deanna and Mya Cook
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus sent this card to Deanna and Mya Cook. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Office

Members of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls mailed a card of support to Mya and Deanna on Monday. Attached to the card are photos of current black congresswomen to show the difference in each of their hairstyles.

“Your hair, nor anything about your being is ever a distraction in the classroom,” said the card signed by Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman, Marcia Fudge, Maxine Waters, and others.

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