The parents of a Black South Dakota high school student say they are upset their son’s school gave him an ultimatum —cut your hair or leave.
Braxton Schafer, a 14-year-old freshman at O’Gorman High School in Sioux Falls has locs that reach his shoulders. On Friday, the school administration told the family that Braxton’s hair has to follow the policy concerning length, which requires that boys’ hair length be above the collar.
However, according to the Argus Leader, Braxton’s mom says that her son has been in the Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools system for three years and the length of his hair has never been an issue before.
She says for Braxton, whom she and her husband Derrick adopted as a newborn, his locs are personal. “Strength, pride and part of him, a piece of him that we won’t understand, that most people in South Dakota don’t understand,” his mother, Toni Schafer, told the local CBS affiliate, Keloland News.
“We don’t necessarily agree with the rule. We think it’s culturally biased,” the teen’s dad Derrick Schafer said.
According to Kyle Groos, the president of Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools, school policy– not style or culture— determines how long students’ hair should be.
“Can students wear dreadlocks? Yes, they can,” Groos said. “We simply want the length of the hair to be at the collar or right above the collar. Right there is what we ask for. To be clean, neat and well-cared for.”
Chloe Goldade, the public information officer for the Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools system, said Braxton was among 20 male students asked to comply with the policy since Aug. 18.
When asked how many of those students were students of color, Goldade told the Argus Leader: “We don’t have an answer for that because we don’t keep track of which students are students of color when carrying out any parts of the uniform policy.” Goldade said that the policy applies to all students.
They discussed compromises with administrators, such as putting Braxton’s locs up in an updo so they wouldn’t touch his collar. Despite that, they claim administrators informed them they couldn’t do “man buns” anymore, which isn’t explicitly stated in the current dress code policy.
O’Gorman High School says it will allow Braxton to finish the semester. His parents say they will transfer their son out of the school after that.
“It’s incredibly stressful, and he feels kind of like an outsider anyways, because when you’re one of very few (Black students), and I think he might be the only one there with locs, he’s devastated, basically,” his mother said. “He wanted to stay because he likes his friends.”