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Portrait of a smiling young African American boy with locs, in an outdoor park, wearing a blue t-shirt.

Source: Mireya Acierto / Getty

Parents in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, are sounding off about a Catholic high school’s dress code policy that would have required their 14-year-old Black son to cut off his locs.

Toni Schaefer said she was shocked when the assistant principal at O’Gorman High School notified her that her son Braxton’s shoulder-length locs went against the school’s uniform policy. According to NBC News, the rule prohibits boys from wearing their hair past the collar or “touching the collar.” Toni told the outlet that this was the first time she was ever notified about the strict policy. Braxton had been wearing his hair in locs since he enrolled in the Bishop O’Gorman Catholic School system at eight years old. 

During a conference, Braxton’s parents tried to compromise with the school’s administrators, asking if they could put his locs up into an updo so that his hair would not be touching his collar. Still, school officials told them that students were not allowed to wear “man buns.” According to Toni, Braxton was devastated upon learning the news. “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,” she said according to USA TODAY. 

Braxton’s dad Derrick argued that the school waited too long to inform them about the dress code policy.

“The problem is, it’s being arbitrarily applied,” he explained. “He’s been in the system for three years with the same length hair. We’re confused about why it’s become an issue now. Why? They’ve had plenty of chances to discuss it with us.”

School administrators approached Braxton’s parents one more time about the dress code violation, but they stood their ground, notifying officials that he would not be cutting off his hair. The Schaefers will transfer Braxton out of the Bishop O’Gorman Catholic School system after the fall semester is finished.

“This is about my son. I want him to be able to be comfortable,” Toni said, noting that although the school never threatened to “expel” Braxton, she felt as if they were trying to push him out. For Toni, maintaining her son’s beautiful locs bare cultural and spiritual significance. “It’s not the actual loc itself; it’s the length, and the strength, spirituality and power, it’s all in the length,” she added.

In a statement to the Argus Leader, Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools president Kyle Groos doubled down on the high school’s strict hair policy.

“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.”

He added, “Obviously, some people may or may not agree with (the policy), but as for us as a Catholic school, we have our expectations as parents when they enroll, understanding what our handbook and what it expresses on dress code. It’s not like it hasn’t been reviewed.”

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