In August, 6-year-old Clinton Stanley Jr. was kicked out of his new school before he even had a chance to step inside a classroom. Administrators at the Florida school didn’t approve of his hairstyle, which he wore in locs, and said he couldn’t return until he changed it.
Now the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and American Civil Liberties Union are filing a legal complaint with the state’s Department of Education, alleging that the private school’s hair policy is racially discriminatory. The complaint cites HuffPost data showing that it is not uncommon for private schools in the state to maintain hair policies with clear racist undertones.
The school in question ― A Book’s Christian Academy ― is private, but it participates in several of the state’s voucher programs, which provides publicly funded scholarships for kids to attend private schools based on factors like income. Clinton was supposed to attend A Book’s Christian Academy on one such scholarship.
But the American Civil Liberties Union and Legal Defense Fund complaint says that A Book’s policy is illegal, violating federal civil rights laws that schools in state voucher programs are required to follow.
“A Book’s ban on ‘dreads’ – a style that Black students are particularly likely to wear – does not advance any legitimate school objective,” says the complaint. “Therefore, A Book’s policy illegally discriminates against Black students.”
“I was bewildered that the all-white staff in charge of a predominantly Black school would have the audacity to shame something so closely tied to Black identity.”
The complaint also notes that at one point, school administrators told Clinton that his hair was too long because it fell below his ears. But promotional materials for the school show a white male student with hair falling below his ears.
“Clinton Stanley Jr. was excluded from accessing an education at A Book’s Christian Academy simply because he is a Black male with locs,” says the complaint.
Clinton Stanley Sr., who was with his son when he was turned away from the school, documented the experience in a Facebook video at the time. He also wrote about his son’s experience in a blog post for the ACLU.
“I was bewildered that the all-white staff in charge of a predominantly Black school would have the audacity to shame something so closely tied to Black identity,” wrote Stanley.
Angel Harris, an assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said she hopes that the Department of Education decides to investigate A Book’s Christian Academy and that the school changes its policies. She added that she hopes other schools with similar policies will take note.
The Legal Defense Fund previously sent a letter to the Florida Department of Education about the issue in October. The attorneys decided to file the formal legal complaint when they did not hear back from the department, she said.
“The Florida Department of Education does not condone discrimination of any kind in Florida schools,” spokeswoman Audrey Walden told HuffPost. She said the department was still reviewing the complaint, which it received Thursday.
In August a HuffPost investigation found that at least 20 percent of private schools participating in Florida’s newest voucher program have strict hair policies with specific racial undertones. Florida’s newest voucher program ― in which A Book’s does not participate ― provides scholarships to students who are victims of bullying. Hair policies in these schools require “natural” styles and ban dreadlocks. One school even has a ban on “progressive” hairstyles, while another school’s handbook says “many styles of fashion are clearly a result of the liberal influence of today’s secular society.”
This article was updated with comment from the Florida Department of Education.