ROCKVILLE, Md. — Cassandra Forrester said she was excited to enroll her daughter into St. Jude Regional Catholic School in Rockville, Md. this August due to its diversity. But, then, she read the school’s student handbook.
The Montgomery County parent said she noticed the private school had specific directions for students regarding how they could wear their hair on campus.
The handbook read that students' “hair should be neat and clean” and that “any forms of braids, cornrows, twists, or dreadlocks are prohibited”.
Forrester has Black children. She said the policy, as written in the handbook, is discriminatory to students of color.
“The natural hair that is growing out of your head should not be a reason that a child should fear being put in the principal's office,” she said.
Forrester said it was unfair families like hers have to consider issues like this when other families with different types of hair do not.
"Being kind of singled out for the way that you naturally are, as being a reason why you could get in trouble, just doesn't make sense,” she said.
St. Jude Regional Catholic School is operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. Several other archdiocese schools also have similar hair guidelines specified in their respective handbooks that are provided online.
In a statement, the archdiocese said it upholds the equal dignity of every person.
“Catholic Schools of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington are rooted in Gospel principles, policies and practices that value our human diversity,” the statement reads.
The archdiocese added that St. Jude was in the process of reviewing and updating its handbooks and that it had not enforced the rules regarding hairstyles anytime recently.
“Our principals have been participating in training around culturally responsive classrooms and schools, and have been encouraged to assess many aspects of school instruction and operations, including dress code and hairstyle policies,” the statement reads.
Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando co-sponsored the CROWN Act along with Councilmember Nancy Navarro. CROWN stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”. That law made it illegal for anyone to discriminate against another person on account of their natural hairstyle.
“You should be able to be who you are, the way God made you in any setting, and not have to fear that you have to conform to a Eurocentric standard of beauty and change who you are to fit in in America,” he said. “That's not American and that's not who we are.”
On Wednesday, Jawando sent a letter to St. Jude and the archdiocese urging them to remove the school’s written policy regarding hairstyles.
While Jawando’s letter pointed out that private schools were not legally bound to follow the CROWN Act, as passed in the county, he said St. Jude should do so on the behalf of the 200,000 African Americans that live in Montgomery County.
"The CROWN Act is an important legal remedy to years of discrimination, shaming and ridicule that many African-American women and men have faced when they have chosen natural hairstyles," he said. "This particularly insidious form of discrimination specifically targets African-Americans because of the texture of our hair."
Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando’s letter to St. Jude Regional Catholic School:
Jawando said he had also directed lawyers to look into whether the county’s human rights and anti-discrimination laws could apply to private schools.
Full Statement from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington:
“Catholic Schools of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington are rooted in Gospel principles, policies and practices that value our human diversity and uphold the equal dignity of every person. Furthermore, each school monitors and revises as necessary its handbook policies to ensure that they are inclusive and culturally sensitive, while also encouraging modesty in dress, personal appearance and conduct as part of the formation of our young people to prepare them for the professional world as an adult.
Leadership at St. Jude Regional Catholic School in Rockville was already in the process of reviewing and updating the section of the policy related to hairstyles. In practice, the written policy’s ban on braids and cornrows had not been enforced any time recently to allow for cultural expression for young men and women of all nationalities and cultures. As part of ongoing review, our schools will continue to update this and all our policies in order to serve best our students and families.
Our principals have been participating in training around culturally responsive classrooms and schools, and have been encouraged to assess many aspects of school instruction and operations, including dress code and hairstyle policies.”