Nope

No.  Nope.  Absolutely not.  I’m sorry, Faith Christian Academy of Orlando, expulsion is exactly the wrong way to respond to the harassment of a student.

“But Kazzy,” I’ll pretend you object, “Bullies and their like SHOULD face expulsion for their behavior.”

Perhaps.  But the student who faced expulsion was not those engaging in the harassment, but instead it was the one who was the target of their teasing.

Vanessa Van Dyke wore her hair long and natural, resulting in the look seen here:

vanessa-vandykeCute kid, no?

Well, her classmates didn’t think so, teasing her for her hair.  When the family complained, the school responded by declaring her hair a “distraction”, thus making it in violation of the dress code and requiring her to cut it off or face expulsion.

After being called out, the school has since walked back the threat of expulsion, instead insisting that she simply style it differently.  A statement released by the school said: “We are not asking her to put products in her hair or to cut her hair.  We are asking her to style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook.”

Translation: Be more like the other kids so they won’t tease you.

What a horrible, horrible message.  Shame on you, Faith Christian Academy of Orlando.  I’m tempted to make you one of my Things That Shouldn’t Exist.

Note: I’m not going into depth on the potential racial angle to this story (including the apparent ignorance of or disregard for the damage that straightening hair like Vanessa’s can cause) because the school’s actions are abhorrent regardless of the racial insensitivities that might be peppering the school’s response.  One of their students — their charges — came to them with complaints about being teased for her appearance and their response was that she should look different.  Ugh.

 

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28 thoughts on “Nope

  1. Seriously? I don’t see that children have a right to expression in such a way that any school that they are willing to attend cannot impose standards that include what hairstyles one may sport. As I’ve written before, I’ve attended schools with far stricter standards and while I don’t think kids should be bullied for any reason, I don’t feel particularly sympathetic about requiring her to conform.

    Also, is there anything fundamentally wrong with getting kids to conform to a certain standard? One of the rationales of having a uniform is to get people to realise that in a school setting, they are to be treated the same regardless of their particular background.

    The girl could have just tied her hair up with a rubber band. She doesn’t have to do any skeezy chemical treatment. She has all the time to express her unique snowflake-ness during the summer or when she is an adult.

    Finally, her hairstyle is not neat and her parents do her a disservice if they do not teach her that. I do think neatness standards are important and that putting in an effort to be neat at least when you go to school shows that you are not a total slob. Learning what the standards of neatness are and feeling at least the small normative bite of such social standards will serve people well when they later enter the working world. And to teach them this, we start when they are young.

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    • You and I have spoken at length before about social norms, schools, dress codes, and the like. I think it fair to say we simply disagree on them, which is cool.

      My issue with the school is the process by which they arrived at the decision. The girl had worn her hair this way all year and had been growing it into said style for years with no complaint from the school. When her classmates began teasing her and her family approached the school about it, they responded by saying, “Well, you are the problem and we will suspend you if you continue to be such.” To me, that is abhorrent. They should have responded to the teasing/bullying first and then, if warranted, discussed the dress code issue.

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      • Well, you are the problem and we will suspend you if you continue to be such.” To me, that is abhorrent. They should have responded to the teasing/bullying first and then, if warranted, discussed the dress code issue.

        No disagreement with you there.

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      • That is the main thrust. It is why I didn’t want to get into the race (or class) issues because it would take us down the road of what is or is not appropriate.

        I figured we could agree that the school is in err here, which I’m glad we do. Believe it or not, this isn’t an entirely uncommon response from schools to bullying. A recent documentary was made called “Bully” that showed other school administrators with somewhat similar responses to complaints of bullying. I understand some of the reasons it happens, but none of them make it acceptable.

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      • That is to say I don’t disagree with your entire second paragraph. Its just that that’s not what I got from the article you linked. Maybe I missed something, but if it happened as you describe, then yes that was bad.

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      • I now feel a little like a cad for what I wrote below, although I still stand by it.

        Bullying seems like a very difficult situation for administrators and teachers to address. I suspect a proper way to go about it involves more than just banning it or saying that it’s wrong. There’s something untouchable about it that strikes most attempts to address it (at least the ones I, a non-teacher who has no expertise in the matter, am aware of) as only very marginally useful, if at all. (I’ll probably not be able to comment much more, as I’ll be away for most of the weekend. So sorry for dropping this bomb and leaving.)

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      • As a general rule — despite all the talk about it — schools seem woefully unprepared to respond to real bullying.

        It is hard for me to say if what happened here truly qualifies as bullying. Teasing != bullying and the latter term gets thrown around a bit too loosely in my opinion. Nonetheless, schools need to be better about responding to issues of meanness. It doesn’t matter how you wear your hair: you shouldn’t be made fun of for it.

        You’re right that simply telling kids to stop isn’t the solution. Social and emotional education is just like any other skill or concept learned: it takes practice, repetition, modeling, instruction, and a thoughtful plan for implementation. As schools get more and more top-down pressure to improve academics, the social and emotional curriculum is often the first to go. It is why I prefer to say in the preschool, where most (but, sadly, not all) schools recognize that social and emotional teaching take precedent over academics.

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    • Murali,

      (I should start off by saying I don’t have children. I don’t know if that’s relevant, but it might be.)

      I don’t completely reject what you’re saying. I do think one lesson people need to learn as they grow up is that sometimes it’s necessary to conform, and, by extension, they also need to learn how to balance that necessity with their prerogative/desire/need to express and live their individuality.

      However, in this situation, and I admit I haven’t clicked on the links, it seems the school is making a special case to single out this particular student. It doesn’t seem as if the school had a well articulated, uniformly applicable standard from the beginning about hair styles. If it did (or does, again, I haven’t read the links), then maybe I’d reconsider some of my disagreement with what’s going on. I confess that even then, regulating hairstyles is probably not something I’d endorse. But as it stands, what the school is doing strikes me as an exercise in arbitrariness.

      Speaking subjectively, her hairstyle as portrayed in Kazzy’s embedded photo, seems not all that out of the ordinary. It’s perhaps not usual, but I don’t find it outlandish or beyond the style a significant number of people sport. That’s not my true rejection of the school’s policy. I believe basing such a policy on my (or anyone else’s) subjective valuation of whether a hairstyle “outlandish” would be the wrong way to go about this, both because my (or others’) subjective value can be arbitrary and because I don’t believe outlandishness or out-of-the-ordinariness should be a guideline for what’s banned in the first place. But I think it’s something to keep in mind when we’re talking about the need to conform as it applies to this particular student.

      Finally, I know Kazzy wants to bracket the discussion of race from the principal question/issue he raises, but I’ll point out that in American society (and perhaps other societies…I’m thinking for example of the hair braids that the Qing dynasty supposedly required Chinese subjects to sport….but there’s a lot I don’t know about that), hair can be a marker of racial and cultural difference and self-expression, and banning or prescribing certain styles has certain value-laden and power-laden connotations. It’s not merely a question of straightening “frizzy” hair (as you point out, straightening is not the only approach one would plausibly take), but also a question of who is in power and gets to decide whether another person not in power acts or lives a certain way. I repeat that I haven’t read the links, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the administrators responsible for the decision are white (if they’re not white, then perhaps another dynamic, or a sublter version of the racial dynamic, might be going on, so I’m being speculative here).

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      • You make some really solid points in your final paragraph there. I looked at the school’s handbook and it does not refer to “frizzy” or “big” hair but does refer to mohawks, rat tails, and things shaved into the hair. It seems that the lines they draw are more class than racial and much more about in group/out group. Basically, “This is the way WE wear our hair and you need to wear it that way, too. Don’t forget who makes the rules here.”

        This is why I get so angry when people seems completely ignorant to the idea that standards of dress are culturally relative. I won’t argue that American formal dress standards are typically marked by a suit and tie for men. That’s simply a fact. But when the leap is made to this somehow being the morally superior style of dress, I get all antsy. And an argument can certainly be made that we are preparing children for American society and, as such, should teach and enforce American standards. But we must remember that these are in fact American standards and not some universal, objective standard.

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      • Kazzy,
        By relatively universal, “objective” standards (not cultural, at any rate), her haircut is pretty unkempt. Wearing unkempt hair, like dressing “slobbily” (with stained clothing, smelling funny, etc), sends a powerful signal to the animal inside us, that the person is probably sick or otherwise worthy of being avoided.

        I would hope that someone she trusts could tell her that. I’m not trying to say that she needs to conform, but she ought to be aware of the consequences.

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  2. From what I remember of school, if Jason bullies you and Tom bullies you and Mark bullies you and even J.R. bullies you, then teachers will assign blame to the common element of each problem, which is you. It’s hard to sell the someone on the idea that Tom is really just an intrinsically awful person when everyone else seems to get along with him just fine while you keep seeming to get in trouble.

    My guess is that the administrators here weren’t trying to be awful. It’s just that being awful was the easiest way to fix all of their problems. And fixing one’s own problems takes higher precedence than doing the right thing (assuming human behavior hasn’t changed much since I was her age).

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    • I want to disagree with this but am not sure I can. Though I do agree that I don’t think the admin was intending to be terrible but instead fail to show the ability and willingness to do better. You’d think not being reflexively terrible would be a criteria for advancing into educational leadership, but it is not.

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      • It’s worth noting that in all likelihood this exact same thing happened 99 other times, and the parents simply cut their kids hair. This young girl had parents willing to escalate the situation and thus it became a problem for us to talk about. In general though, I am guessing that the school’s initial reaction of blaming the victim will work to its benefit most of the time.

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    • There’s probably something to Vikram’s take.

      I’d also like to know how far the bullying/teasing went. Kids tease each other over all kinds of stuff. Some of it’s in good fun; some of it’s abusive; some of it starts out in good fun, but ends in abusive.

      I also wonder how far outside the bounds of the dress code she actually is; if the hair was causing no trouble, so they ignored it; but now they’ve got a situation, so they think “well, we should have enforced the dress code with her to begin with, then we could have avoided all this”.

      How long can boys wear their hair at Faith Christian Academy? Can they let it grow as long and natural as they like? Somehow I doubt it. And if one does, and he starts getting teased, and the school’s response was, well, you’re outside the dress code anyway, get it cut, I don’t know if we’d think it odd.

      I also know I wouldn’t want to sit directly behind her in class, it’d be difficult to see the blackboard. She might as well be wearing a huge sun hat at all times. So yeah, that’s distracting.

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      • I’ll say this, it really isn’t that much trouble. Certainly not as much as sitting behind the 6foot kid in middle school.

        Their code is nonspecific, and deliberately so (telling someone that they can’t wear nappy hair would land you a lawsuit, I figure). So, whether she is in or out is a matter of opinion on all sides.

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      • I think if a kid is complaining to their parents and/or school staff then whatever is happening is beyond simple teasing. Kids typically will just tolerate a lot crap from classmates even if they don’t like it. If they are willing to ask for help or say they are really hurting that takes a lot to admit they are being a victim.

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      • greg,
        I’m pretty sure, because I did complain, for years, that the only thing that got teachers’ attention was someone threatening to kill me (that, and actually throwing a hanger at my head–but I pretty much attacked him after that, because it was flipping dangerous).

        20/20 hindsight, and all that, but I do know (got written records) that the teachers agreed with the bullies to some extent.

        I was a real jerk sometimes as a kid.

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      • Greg, the thing is… that depends wildly from one kid to the next. You have Brits (“stiff upper lip”), melodramatics, and so on.

        Substitutes are at a particular disadvantage when it comes to such things, but one of the really tough things for me on assignments was figuring out the complainant. Were they (in no particular order):

        (a) Unduly picked on by a variety of people for some reason or another (they’re odd ducks or the social dynamic stars just aligned against them for whatever reason).
        (b) Provoking students.
        (c) Themselves causing trouble and hiding behind the skirt whenever anyone retaliated.
        (d) Making things up or grossly exaggerating what is happening.

        I’ll note that for repeat customers, I came to the frustrating decision that (a) was not the case a majority of the time, when any particular student appeared to be targeted by multiple people. I can see how the lazy or tired would conclude that they should just assume that it’s not (a), even if that’s the wrong thing to do.

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      • Will,
        Do you consider her hair as provoking other kids?
        I know I got teased all through high school because of my hair.
        (it was somewhat smaller than hers, a little more uniform in length, and covered more of my forehead).

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  3. I hope she can find a school where she won’t be teased for her hair.
    I think she’s gorgeous; and if she wants to wear her hair like that, she should.

    1) The hair didn’t just jump up there overnight. To call it a distraction at this point is foolish.
    2) If she’s going to get grief from the administrators over something like this, the likelihood that the same dynamic will repeat itself if fairly high, IMHO.
    3) I’m glad her parents are backing her on this, and I hope she can find a new school.

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    • 1). I like her hair. All things being equal, I’d hope it wouldn’t be a problem.

      2). One way it might not be equal, is the so-called “distraction” clause of the dress code. I just got a haircut, because it had reached “Jeremy Jamm”. If I let it keep going into “Phil Spector”, a school (particularly a private one) might be within their rights to say “get a haircut, you’re blocking the overhead projector”.

      3). I have a friend who is a teacher. He had a particular student who was being (and had been) unruly. He was standing next to her and she was yapping away to another student and he tapped her on her head with the paper he was holding to get her attention.

      He was called in the following week, because the student’s mother had reported to the school that he had hit her in the head with a book and injured her head and neck (presumably, she was seeking a payday?) Anyway, he was cleared easily, there had been multiple witnesses, and the student (and presumably the mom) were known troublemakers.

      Not every complaint is valid. It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that the issue was escalated for reasons other than aesthetics or principle.

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