‘Discriminatory’: ACLU, NAACP Go After Florida School That Banned Child for Dreadlocks
The school insists its policy against dreadlocks is not racist—and claims the real problem is a crackdown on Christian schools.
The father of a 6-year-old boy who was denied admittance to a Florida Christian school because he has dreadlocks has filed an “illegal racial discrimination” complaint to the state with the ACLU and NAACP.
When Clinton Stanley Jr. arrived for the first day of school at A Book's Christian Academy in Apopka this August, his father alleges that the school denied his son’s entry because he had dreadlocks. His father’s interaction with school officials went viral when he shared his filmed conversation with them on Facebook. When asked why his son couldn’t enter, even with his hair “tied up,” an official tells him “it’s in the handbook.” The school denied that they refused the boy because of race, instead, pointing to a policy that enforces a “tapered cut, off the collar and ears.”
The video picked up media attention at the beginning of the school year, but Thursday, the ACLU and NAACP filed an official complaint on Stanley Sr.’s behalf, calling for the Department of Education to investigate the case and withdraw scholarship funding until its hair policy changes.
“My whole objective is for a change,” Stanley Sr. told The Daily Beast. “To remove policies that are in place [that are used to be] discriminatory against a certain group of people. It’s not right.”
He said his son, who had received a scholarship to attend A Book’s, is currently attending another school—but he wants to enroll him at a private school. “Because a private setting, [is where] he can excel academically,” he said.
Nancy Abudu, Legal Director for ACLU of Florida, told The Daily Beast that the basis of the complaint is to investigate how the school spends its scholarship money, given that Clinton Jr. received one and was unable to attend.
According to the Florida Department of Education’s bylaws, private schools that receive scholarship funding from the state, as A Book’s does, must adhere to both state and the Education Department’s provisions. If not, the department “may determine that the private school is ineligible to participate in the scholarship program.”
While the bylaws also dictate that private schools are free to uphold rules without the state’s intrusion—dreadlocks are listed as a prohibited hairstyle in the student handbook along with “mohawks, designs, unnatural color, or unnatural designs”—the complaint alleges that the policy is a violation of The Civil Rights Act of 1964.2.
Black hairstyles being seen as “not appropriate” has been a topic that activists have long been trying to address—the idea being that policies that ban styles such as “locs” reinforce the “good hair” myth that disadvantages the black community.
Audrey Walden, Press Secretary for the Florida Department of Education, told The Daily Beast the department “does not condone discrimination of any kind in Florida school” and that it “just received this complaint today, and we are in the process of reviewing it.”
The school’s top administrators, however, don’t believe they violated any such code. When The Daily Beast called the school’s founder, Sue Book, she gave the phone to her husband, John Book, who serves as the academy’s Chairman of the Board.
According to the website, Sue Book founded the school “in order to train students in the knowledge of God and the Christian way of life.”
Her husband, who is also a fundamentalist reverend, told The Daily Beast he has not yet heard of the complaint, but chalked it up as a politically correct scheme to disenfranchise Christian schools. They said they’ve had the same policy since the school’s founding in 1971.
“If I violated the Civil Rights Law—then they violated my rights when I entered the Navy and they cut off my hair,” he said. “If the ACLU has to set the dress code for every private business, we're no better than the Soviet Union.”
He claimed Stanley Sr. showed up without having finished paperwork, which the complaint alleges was supposed to be taken care of upon arrival on the first day—as indicated per emails between Stanley Sr. and the school reviewed by the ACLU.
“The issue is not hair. The issue is trying to close Christian schools down,” Book said. “Ninety five percent of my students are black, how is that possible to be a racist?”
When asked how this related to Stanley’s complaint, he asserted the values upon which he and his wife run the school.
“Some of the people today, young blacks, they walk around displaying their underwear, to the rim of the buttons. I don’t have that in my school,” he said. “Too many young people are using dress as a distraction. We try to remove those distractions. I teach my first graders what they need to know to be Citizens of the United states, [to know] the supreme law of land.”
Abudu said that the school's religious and tradition defense of the policy is "offensive"
"A common tenant of Christianity is treating people with justice," she said. "I find it implausible to believe you won't find a black child with locs going to a [Christian] school."
The ACLU has spoken up in the past for those who have been discriminated against because of school hair policies. In May 2017, the organization filed a similar complaint to the state of Massachusetts after two girls of color were suspended for having hair extensions despite no discipline for white students who violated the same policy. The ban was lifted after the policy was found to violate state and federal laws.
"What could a child's hairstyle have to do with a student's ability to learn?" she said.
Nevertheless, Book, who says he has has received multiple death threats, isn’t planning on budging on the policy any time soon.
“I would not [change the policy]. If I did that, I’d have no way of remaining open. I’d have another complaint. We keep bending on what used to be the absolute authority.”
Stanely Sr. sees it differently.
“It’s their policy. It don’t make their policy right. It don’t make their rule right,” he said. “They don’t understand what’s going on, being black in America.”