A small group of teen girls decided to wear geles—African head wraps—to The School for Creative Studies in Durham on the first day of Black History Month. It didn't end well.
Actually, it didn't end at all. The issues that arose that day, when administrators told the girls to take off their geles, will likely linger well into the foreseeable future.
To recap: Durham Public Schools has a policy against "hats, caps, hoods, sweat bands and bandannas or other head wear worn inside school building." Administrators saw the geles as a dress-code violation.
That angered the girls' parents, including Afiya Carter, whose fifteen-year-old daughter, Assata, was part of that group.
"The girls tried to explain to the administrators that they weren't trying to do anything bad or harmful, and that other kids in the school wear things all the time—you know, like flower headbands, and different things on their heads," Carter says. She likens it to wearing green for St. Patrick's Day. "It's part of being African-American," she says. "It's part of our culture."
Parents wrote a petition that included the demand that "a cultural expression exemption be added to the dress code policy." On February 8, about two-dozen supporters demonstrated outside the school as students watched.
"It is very, very common in school districts to have policies against hats and hoodies and other headgear," DPS spokeswoman Chrissy Deal said the day after the protest. She added that the timing of this controversy—which drew a good bit of TV news coverage—was actually fortunate, since the DPS board was going to discuss the dress code at its February 10 work session.
She disputed one oft-repeated claim: that the girls were threatened with suspension. "The leaders of the school, the principal included, have told me repeatedly that suspension never came up," she said.
At that meeting, board members discussed the proposed easing of suspensions for minor infractions—dress-code violations, for example. School board members are in the process of reviewing the Code of Conduct and suggesting tweaks. Cultural exemption wasn't written into the draft presented last week.
It'll be interesting to see the next one.