On Wednesday morning, students at Pasadena, California's John Muir High School staged a peaceful walk out in protest of their school district's new durag ban.
The school's Black Student Union organized the event after students and the Pasadena Unified School District failed to find middle ground on the issue.
The protesting students feel that the administration sees durags as signs of gang affiliation. John Muir's principal, Lawton Gray, has pushed back against this assessment; however, he said he once wore durags in class while a student at the school decades ago.
“The administration’s feeling is that, once again, durags are not to be worn at school,” Gray told the Pasadena Star-News. “It does not have to do with gang affiliation. It has to do with the values we have for how we present ourselves at school.”
The students disagree with their principal and have cited the actual policy as evidence.
The policy responsible for the durag ban specifically says “apparel that reasonably could be determined to threaten the health and safety of the school environment if it were worn or displayed on a school campus." District policy also says “hats, caps and other head coverings shall not be worn indoors;" however, the rules allow for each school's administration to decide how it would like to implement the code, if at all.
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“The main reason we protest today is because we’re trying to stop the criminalization of Black men on campus,” Reggie Myles, a college-bound senior and member of the Black Student Union, told Pasadena Now.
Myles explained he and other students see durags as items that allow for cultural expression and likened them to turbans and hijabs.
“In the now, you have people embracing their culture within their natural hair," Myles said. "In the past, men used to perm their hair and now you have Black men wearing short hair with waves.”
Right now: Pasadena’s John Muir High School students walking out over durag ban pic.twitter.com/olmFonp3rr— Chris Lindahl (@cmlindahl) February 20, 2019
John Muir HS students walkout to protest the school’s ban on #durags. Black Student Union students say the school tells them durags perpetuate gang culture but they say it unfairly continues the criminalization of black men. Durags are used to create #360WAVE hairstyle. #durag pic.twitter.com/xFEBb7wrPU— Sarah Reingewirtz (@sarahimages) February 20, 2019
Administrators are here. Students chant at them: “I am not dangerous” pic.twitter.com/G2lxEhdlCM— Chris Lindahl (@cmlindahl) February 20, 2019
Michelle Bailey of the Pasadena School Board said the durag ban is necessary to help students prepare for corporate life.
“When I think about being at school I think about preparing for higher education. When you look at pictures of people who are successful in their business, they’re not wearing durags," Bailey said.
The school's administration supported the hour-long student protest, although teachers were instructed to mark students participating in the demonstration absent.
Following the protest, negotiations between students and the administration resumed; they remain ongoing.
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