The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office has ordered the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School to immediately cease enforcing its ban on braided hair extensions.
Parents of black and biracial students at the Malden school said last week that the administration's crackdown on hair extensions, resulting in detentions and suspensions, was racist. The American Civil Liberties Union also filed a complaint against the school.
In a letter dated Friday, Genevieve Nadeau, chief of the attorney general's Civil Rights Division, said that not only is the ban "unlawful," but it also does not appear that white students who have violated it have been similarly punished.
"Specifically, MVRCS's Hair/Make-Up policy includes a number of prohibitions that are either unreasonably subjective or appear to effectively single out students of color," she said.
School administrators have said the ban on hair extensions is designed to "foster a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion or materialism."
Alexander J. Dan, Interim School Director, said that “we are in receipt of the letter from the attorney general’s office and it will be reviewed by the board of trustees at a meeting that has been called for Sunday night.”
One of the unlawful prohibitions cited by Nadeau is a ban on "shaved lines or shaved sides" or "hair more than 2 inch in thickness in height," which she said appears to specifically reference hair styles commonly worn by black students.
She also cited the ban on hair extensions, saying it appears to specifically reference hair styles more likely to be worn by female black students.
"Braids and extensions are likewise not simply fashion choices or trends, but also can be important expressions of racial culture, heritage, and identity, in addition to serving very practical needs unique to black women and girls," Nadeau said.
She said there "appears to be substantial evidence" that the hair and make-up policy is inconsistently applied.
"For example, we have found photographs on social media sites... that show students in clear violation of the Hair/Make-Up policy, including a number of white students with 'shaved sides' and 'coloring, dying [sic], lightening... or streaking.'"
She said it is "critical" that the school immediately cease enforcing or imposing discipline for violations of those provisions of the policy.