Four-year-old Jabez Oates was excited to start his first day of pre-K on Thursday.
“He said he wanted to go to school to make his brain healthy, if that lets you know anything about him,” says his mother, Jessica Oates. “He was so excited to go to school, and now he just doesn’t understand.”
That was before the 25-year-old Oates was told Friday afternoon that her son would not be able to return to school at Barbers Hill Independent Kindergarten Center in Houston unless she cut off his long hair, which he’s been growing since birth.
The school has a policy for boys that hair must not extend below the collar, the ear lobes or the eyebrow. A copy of the dress code policy for grades pre-K through 5 states, “The district’s dress code is established to set the standard of excellence, set our students apart from others, teach grooming/hygiene, prevent disruption, and minimize safety hazards.”
When Oates brought Jabez to school on Monday, she attempted to meet the dress code requirements by pulling his hair back into a bun with a black hair tie, but he wasn’t allowed out of the car. She met with the principal and the assistant superintendent, and was told Jabez’s hair was still in violation of dress code. On Tuesday, she had to call in sick to her job because Jabez couldn’t go to school. Still, she won’t consider a haircut.
“I will cut his hair the day he asks me to get his hair cut,” she told HuffPost.
She adds that Jabez’s hair is part of his self-expression. “This isn’t my first time getting a hard time for my son’s hair,” she says. “But as you talk to my son, you understand that he likes his hair. He doesn’t want to cut his hair. It’s just part of who he is.”
Dr. Greg Poole, Barbers Hill ISD superintendent, told HuffPost that the school district’s policies are fashioned by the local board of trustees, who are taxpayers in the Barbers Hill school district and have had children attend Barbers Hill schools.
“Barbers Hill is one of the premier districts in the state by any measure, and our student enrollment has grown for each of the past 30 years,” he told HuffPost in a statement. “Much of this growth has been fueled by those who are seeking a rigorous educational environment of high expectations for their children.”
“Parents have a right to seek an appropriate educational setting for their child, just as Ms. Oates has the right to place her child in a district that reflects her personal expectations for standards of appearance,” he continued. “There are procedures in place for addressing concerns over policy if it is Ms. Oates’ desire to have her son educated in Barbers Hill ISD. But we would and should justifiably be criticized if our district lessened its expectations or longstanding policies simply to appease.”
The mom is attempting to file a grievance to speak in front of the school board on Sept. 1. In the meantime, she feels betrayed by the community, some members of which have accused her of being a negligent mother for refusing to comply with the school’s dress code.
She says her initial anger has quickly given way to sadness.
“I thought I had all my ducks in a row,” she said. “I got my son prepared. I got him so excited to go to school for his first day of school. We don’t know anyone around here, so I got him excited to meet new friends. Now it’s just sad.”