RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina school fired back after a civil rights group blasted its short hair rule as “discriminatory.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina in a letter warned Classical Charter Schools of Leland that it may have violated the law when it told a Native American boy to cut his hair.
“Logan’s hair is an extension of who he is,” Ashley Lomboy, the child’s mom and a member of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe, said March 20 in a news release. “Without his hair, he will lose part of himself and a critical aspect of his heritage. Native Americans have been wearing their hair long since time immemorial.”
But the school in a statement said it “defended its longstanding grooming standards, which apply to students at all four of its Southeastern North Carolina charter schools regardless of their race, religion, income, cultural background, or national origins.”
The school also “attacked attempts by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of North Carolina ‘to drive a wedge’ between school families and administrators ‘with trumped-up charges’ of discrimination and civil-rights violations,” according to the statement published March 21.
The campus, once called Charter Day School and located roughly 15 miles west of Wilmington, has faced backlash in the past.
In 2022, a U.S. court in a 10-6 vote decided that a uniform rule was unconstitutional. The school had required girls wear skirts because it considered them to be “fragile,” McClatchy News reported.
At the center of the latest contention is Lomboy’s son, first-grade student Logan. Classical Charter Schools of Leland demanded that the child make his hair shorter, reportedly telling him his look was “faddish.” But the ACLU said the boy should be able to wear his hair in a bun and that the move would “deprive him of his cultural heritage.”
“The Waccamaw Siouan Tribe has and continues to steward the land Classical Charter Schools of Leland currently occupies and all the surrounding land of the Cape Fear Region for more than 1,000 years,” Lomboy said in the release. “The school’s dismissal of Logan’s identity and our tribal customs is needless, unfair, and deeply offensive to who we are and who our Tribe has always been.”
The civil rights group argues that public schools — including charter schools — can’t make Logan violate his “foundational” beliefs in order for him to go to school. It also warned that the school’s policy may violate the state constitution, Civil Rights Act of 1964 and federal other laws.
“Classical Charter Schools simply cannot justify this discriminatory policy,” Liza Davis, a Skadden Fellow at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said in the release. “School policy allows girls to wear their hair long and attend school without discipline, yet they’re trying to force Logan and his family to reject his religious and cultural identity under the threat of discipline or even expulsion.”
In its response, the school said it has had its grooming policy “for many years” and that all families receive it in a handbook. The rules call for boys to be clean shaven, with “neatly trimmed” hair that lies above the collar and doesn’t reach down to the eyebrows.
“Distracting, extreme, radical, or faddish haircuts, hair styles, and colors are not allowed,” the policy said.
But the school said it relaxed the rules during the stresses of the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With normalization returning, administration has begun efforts to return to our prior levels of expectations in all areas,” Baker A. Mitchell, president and CEO of The Roger Bacon Academy, which runs Classical Charter Schools of Leland and three other campuses, wrote in a statement. “If an exemption from a policy is sought by a parent, they must submit their request to the board in writing stating the reason for the request.”
The school in its online post also shared a multi-step system it uses for addressing grievances.
“The ACLU seems more interested in creating controversy than resolving it,” Mitchell wrote. “Our schools have procedures for dealing with matters such as these. A review is underway and will be considered by the Board on April 27. Instead of respecting the process, the ACLU has jumped in with threats and accusations that drive people apart, rather than bring them together.”