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Malden Students Punished For Hair Extensions Say School Policy Is Racist

MALDEN (CBS) - Two Mystic Valley Regional Charter School students have been banned from track, banished from the Latin Club and are not allowed at any school events due to to hair code violations.

Twin sisters Deanna and Mya Scott, 15, who are black, were punished because the school's dress code says braid extensions aren't allowed.

"I was really excited to be celebrating my culture because I have white parents and it's very important to participate in the culture," Mya said.

The 15-year-olds are two of five siblings adopted by Colleen and Aaron Cook.

"I'm angry, I feel like my children are beautiful, they're black, they should be proud of themselves, I'm very proud of them," Colleen Cook said.

"So far I have received multiple detentions, I am banned from the track team, I can no longer attend Latin Club, and I'm not allowed to go to any other school events," Deanna said.

Mya Cook
Mya and Deanna Cook in 2017 (WBZ-TV)

School Interim Director Alexander Dan says that their policy is to minimize fashion expenses for school families.

"The specific prohibition of hair extensions, which are expensive and could serve as a differentiating factor between students from dissimilar socioeconomic backgrounds, is consistent with our desire to create an educational environment, one that celebrates all that students have in common and minimizes material differences and distractions," Dan said.

However, Deanna says she thinks the hair policy is racist.

"What they're saying is we can't wear extensions, and the people who wear extensions are black people," Deanna said. "They wear them as braids to protect their hair and they're not allowing us to do that."

Deanna and Mya with their mom. The girls were facing suspension for hair code violations at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School. (WBZ-TV)

Deanna's father agrees.

"The policy specifically discriminates against African-American children as it relates to hair extensions," Aaron Cook said. "You typically do not see Caucasian children with hair extensions. The fact that it's in the handbook does not make it a non-discriminatory policy."

The Cooks have recruited help from the ACLU, Anti-Defamation League and the Attorney General's office.

Robert Treston is the regional head of the ADL and he says he's concerned about the policy.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions and we're very concerned that the school policy, the way it's apparently being implemented, may have a discriminatory impact," Treston said.

However, Treston says his organization wanted to first try to learn the facts.

"When we first got the call from the parents, our first instinct was to reach out to the school to get a sense of what is going on," Treston said. "So it's important now for these unanswered questions to be investigated so people have a sense that the school policies are being applied in an equitable way."

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice Education Project Director Matthew Cregor said in a letter to the school's interim director that the policy may violate federal anti-discrimination law.

"The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education recently released guidance for school districts on the nondiscriminatory administration of school discipline," Cregor wrote. "This civil rights guidance is directly relevant to your school's discriminatory treatment of the Cook twins for three reasons: First, the parents in today's article expressed concern that white students who dye their hair are not facing the same consequences as black students with braids or extensions. This is especially troubling as your policy does not even discuss suspending students for hair/makeup violations, something that the article suggests has happened."

"Second, unlike the jewelry and nail polish prohibited in your code, braids and extensions are worn primarily by African-American and Afro-Caribbean students, raising concerns of discriminatory treatment. Third, it is hard to understand how braiding, a deep-rooted cultural practice of people of African descent, can be put in the same category as the 'drastic and unnatural hair colors' your code prohibits as 'distracting,'" Cregor also wrote.

The project director went to to suggest that the school's hiring policies are also discriminatory, noting that only one of the schools 156 teachers is black.

Interim School Director Alexander Dan still says the school, "Would like to focus on what unites our students and reduce visible gaps between those of different means."

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Carl Stevens reports

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