New York Mom Sues Catholic School For Banning Her Son From Wearing Cornrows
New York passed a law against hair discrimination in July.
October 31, 2019 at 5:51 pm
A New York mother is suing after the principal at her son’s Catholic school said his cornrows were unacceptable.
Lavona Batts moved her son Jediah from a low-performing public school to Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy so he could get a better education. The 8-year-old was enjoying his new school until his grandmother came to pick him up and the principal pulled them to the side on September 4.
“We don’t accept this," the official said while rubbing Jediah’s head.
According to school policy, male students’ hair must be “neat and trim, no longer than the top of the shirt collar. No designs, Mohawks, ponytail, braids, buns, no hair color.”
When Lavona found out, she was furious.
“I was infuriated that now I have to do this because of something like his hair,” she told The New York Daily News. “This is discrimination.”
The hairstyle is a source of pride for the third-grader.
“He loves his hair," Lavona said. "He feels like it makes him look good, it’s a part of him. He’s a very smart boy. He knows what he wants he’s and not going to let anyone change his mind about anything.”
Lavona tried to work something out with the school but they wouldn’t compromise. She was told she had five days to change Jediah’s hair. One staffer told her another Catholic school would do the same if she tried to place her son elsewhere. Lavona tried another Catholic school before she ultimately settled on a public school.
She filed a lawsuit at the Queen Supreme Court on Monday. Initially, she wasn’t going to file.
“I was more concerned about finding him a new school,” she said. “I fully felt like this wasn’t right, but my head was like, the bigger issue is my son needs to go to school to get an education.”
In July, New York passed a law barring schools from instituting discriminatory rules against students’ appearance.
“Because natural hair and locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, and Afros are…most closely associated with Black people, no school covered under the [New York City Human Rights Law] may prohibit such styles in New York City,” the law reads. It is against the law to discriminate against “traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles.”
Several government officials have expressed concern about Immaculate Conception’s policy.
A spokesman for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the rule is “completely unacceptable.” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wants to open a probe and said the policy is “appalling.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted, “for too long, kids who look like Jediah have been treated as less than because of the texture of their hair. It’s unacceptable, it’s appalling and that’s why we’ve BANNED it in New York City. My team’s looking into this.”
Laura Feyer, a spokeswoman for de Blasio, confirmed the Human Rights Commission is “looking into all possible remedies, including training, to ensure this doesn’t happen to another student.”
She added, “children should not be forced to choose between their education and their hairstyle. We applaud Jediah for speaking out about his experience.”
School officials have not spoken about the issue.