Cultural sensitivity & diversity is a must, not an option. Stop this student's expulsion.

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My name is Tiffany Kelly, and I am the Executive Director of The Morning After Center for Hope and Healing, Inc. I am writing on behalf of my clients Shaneeka Woody and Quenton Woody, and their 15 year old son Quentell Woody, a student at John Carroll High School in Ft Pierce, FL. He has a 3.5 GPA (approximate) and is extremely active in the school’s sports programs. He is not a disciplinary issue. The family feels they are experiencing a lack of cultural acceptance and sensitivity from school administrators.

Quentell Woody previously attended St Anastasia, the sister school of John Carroll. The schools both operate under the same guidelines and administration. He was quite active in sports at the school as well. Quintell has locs (also known as dredlocks), an ethnic method of styling hair. Quentell’s parents agreed to enroll him at John Carroll only after specifically asking whether his hair would be in compliance; they were told it would not be an issue; other students had attended the school with the same hair styling.

The issue with his hair began November 2, 2015. Quentell was told by school administrator Mark Greene that he had until November 4, 2015 to comply with dress code; his hair must be above the collar. Beginning Nov 5, he would receive daily detention until hair was within code. At that time, he had been wearing his hair up in different styles and down in a ponytail. The parents had a conversation with Mr Greene, and Quentell was permitted to keep his locs, so long as the hair was styled so it would be off the collar.

On February 1, 2016, the parents received an email stating that Quentell was out of dress code, styling of his hair to keep it off the collar was not permitted, and must cut his hair by February 5, 2016. Failure to do so will result in detentions for each day and suspension from sports. The family’s pastor sent a letter explaining that due to religious beliefs, he is not unable to cut his hair, but could style it as so it doesn’t touch his collar. Mr. Greene followed up with an email stating he respects everyone’s religious beliefs but Quintell must follow the school guidelines. Wrapping his hair in a bun to keep it off the collar could be considered eccentric and he expects full compliance. More detentions were issued as well as a fine that increases each time he gets a detention. On February 11, 2016 an email was sent stating that during sporting events, even with the helmet on, the hair must be above the collar.

On Feb 29, Quentell’s family was told by Mr Greene if the hair is not cut by March 18, he cannot return to John Carroll.  On March 1, 2016, there was a conference with the principal, compliance officer, and parents. The parents were told that Quentell’s hair had become an issue due to other parents complaining, and there was really nothing they could do about it; the previous decision to expel him stood if he did not cut his hair by March 18, 2016. The parents have emailed the Palm Beach Diocese with no response.

Per the John Carroll Student Handbook, “Students and parents who have questions regarding the acceptability of certain types and styles of clothing or grooming should consult with the Dean of Students before appearing in school wearing them.” The Woody family did that, received assurance his hair was ok, only to now face issues not because of policy, but other parent complaints.  In fact, as they have pointed out, there was student that recently graduated with locs, further bringing the "policy" into question.

In a diverse society like ours, institutions like schools have a special duty reasonably to accommodate the religious and cultural beliefs and practices of learners. It seems, however, this institution does not wish to respect diversity and would rather impose the values of the majority on everyone, rather than to accommodate the practices with which they do not agree. The handling of this issue has been less than consistent, which indicates there is not really a policy in place; this makes Quentell and his parents question the administration’s motives to have him cut his hair or risk expulsion.  Please let school administrators know we support this student and diversity and cultural sensitivity is a must.

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