Twin sisters Deanna and Mya Cook are being punished by Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Boston.
And it's not because of bad behaviour, being tardy or even skipping classes — it's because of their hair.
According to Essence, since last week, the 15-year-olds have served multiple detentions and now face possible suspension for wearing box braids in school.
@deanna.cookk @myaacook #Deannacook and #MyaCook, 15, who are black, were given detentions because the #MysticValley Regional #CharterSchool dress code says braid extensions aren't allowed. Deanna says she thinks the hair policy is racist. #ColleenCook the twins' mother, says the school is discriminating against her girls by not allowing hair extensions. She told the Boston Globe that braided hair gives her daughters pride. "They want to partake in their culture," she told the newspaper. But the school's interim director, Alexander Dan, says that their policy is to minimize fashion expenses for families whose children attend the school. #defamation #discrimination #racism
On top of that, Deanna was also banned from a school track competition for rocking the style — where hair extensions are braided into the natural hair to create a long plait — and was even removed from the team's bus by the school's athletic director before a meet.
The mother of the pair, Colleen Cook, spoke to the Boston Globe on Sunday regarding her disappointment with Mystic Valley's lack of inclusivity.
"They teach them at a very high academic level and I appreciate that, and that’s why they go to the school," she explained. "But, unfortunately, they don’t have any sensitivity to diversity at all."
The paper also reports the pair are both exceptional students, and Mya is even part of the National Honour Society.
Annette Namuddu, another mother whose daughter, Lauren Kayondo, is enrolled at the school, also came forward to share that her child was suspended after she refused to remove her braids.
"I see white kids with coloured hair and you are not supposed to colour your hair, and they walk around like it’s nothing."
"It’s discrimination," the mom said. "I see white kids with coloured hair and you are not supposed to colour your hair, and they walk around like it’s nothing."
"My daughter is a good student. Never gets in trouble," Namuddu added. "Lauren was having difficulty in mathematics, but they should be helping her out instead of putting her in detention."
She also said Kayondo feels as is the school is "picking on black children."
But while this case is certainly troubling, it's unfortunately not anything new.
Back in early April 2016, Canadian Zara employee, Cree Ballah, was asked to take out her braids during a shift because the company was going for a "clean professional look" and they said the sales associate's hair was "not the look for Zara."
Ballah later told CBC News that the experience was "humiliating" and at the time planned to file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
As for Mystic Valley, these allegations against the school are not only troubling, it sends a negative message that black hair is somehow unruly and has no place at an institution of higher learning. It also totally undermines the cultural significance of this style.
According to U.S. News and World Report, more than 40 percent of students at the charter school are people of colour, 17 per cent of whom are black. With such a large population of diverse teens, one would think the school would be more accommodating to these types of hairstyles. But it seems as though they're remaining steadfast.
In a statement, officials told Boston 25 News, "Our policies ... foster a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion or materialism. Our policy on hair extensions, which tend to be very expensive, is consistent with ... the educational environment that we believe is so important to our students’ success."
But it doesn't seem as though dad Aaron Cook is convinced. He even told the Daily Mail that the policy "specifically discriminates against African American children as it relates to hair extensions."
"You typically do not see Caucasian children with hair extensions," he said. "The fact that it's in the handbook does not make it a non-discriminatory policy."