Preschool student faces expulsion over his hairstyle

Friday, Oct. 5, 2007

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Staff Photo by Jacqueline Rabe
Jayce Brown, 3, shows off the new bookbag he got for school in his Waldorf home. Jayce faces expulsion from Southern Maryland Christian Academy in White Plains because school officials say his hair violates the school’s dress code policy.

Three-year-old Jayce Brown is being threatened with expulsion from Southern Maryland Christian Academy if he doesn’t change his hairstyle.

Jayce has dreadlocks, as do his parents, and does not want a new hairdo.

‘‘I want to have my hair like my daddy’s,” he said as he pushed his mom’s hands away from his hair in a recent interview at his home.

‘‘He doesn’t even know what a haircut is, but I am sure he would not be happy if I told him we had to make his hair short,” said his mother, Danielle Brown of Waldorf.

For the Brown family, the dreadlocks aren’t a fashion statement.

‘‘Locks are not a current faddish hairstyle. It’s a culture for those of African-American descent, and that’s why I feel this policy is so blatantly racially motivated,” Brown said.

Fearing that her child might get expelled from school for what she says is a racial issue, Brown has hired a civil rights lawyer, Ardra M. O’Neal.

Southern Maryland Christian Academy, a private school in White Plains, has students in grades preschool through 12th grade. It is affiliated with Fellowship Church, which is located on the same campus as the school.

Jayce is in the preschool program at the school. A month into the school year, Brown received a letter telling her that her child would have to get a haircut to comply with the dress code or face expulsion beginning Sept. 24. However, Jayce has continued to go to school, after the deadline, with the same hairstyle.

The policy in the school’s student handbook states that male students are not allowed to have ‘‘extremely faddish styles including the use of rubber bands or the ‘twisting’ of hair.’” The policy also states male students are not to have hair unnaturally colored, or covering more than half the ear. Hair also must not touch the eyebrows or collar or be more than two inches high.

Regardless of the policy, Brown said she never signed anything saying her son would follow the dress code.

No one at SMCA could be reached for comment for this article. Three voicemail messages were left for Colleen M. Gaines, the founder and owner of the school, over a two-day period, and two messages were left with the school’s secretary.

A Sept. 21 letter from Gaines to O’Neal said the expulsion would stand if Jayce doesn’t get his hair cut.

‘‘Southern Maryland Christian Academy is not in a position to read through its policies and procedures with each prospective SMCA parent,” Gaines wrote. ‘‘To ensure SMCA parents have read such policies and procedures and have weighed in their mind that they will be able to abide by SMCA’s standards we require a signed statement from the parent. ... The signed statement stands on its own and is excellent proof that Jayce’s parents knew full well what SMCA’s standards were prior to enrolling.”

But what Brown said she signed did not mention the student handbook policies, which is where the dress code is found.

The statement every parent is required to sign, according to the letter from Gaines, reads, ‘‘By signing below I acknowledge I⁄we have read, understand and are bound by all SMCA policies as noted by the contractual agreement. I⁄we have also read the Statement of Cooperation, and by signing, [are] in agreement to the terms therein.”

But nowhere in the Contractual Agreement and the Statement of Cooperation provided to the Maryland Independent by Brown does it require parents to agree to the dress code.

More than a month after school began, Brown said she still has not received or been asked to sign a copy of the dress code. However, the complete handbook, which includes the dress code, is available on the school’s Web site.

O’Neal has written two letters to the school demanding that Jayce be allowed to keep his hairstyle or legal action will be taken.

‘‘My clients will not cut their child’s African locks. They are a symbol of his ancestral heritage. Nor will they withdraw his enrollment,” she wrote in a letter to the school. ‘‘Assuming the registration form makes some vague reference to the policy at issue, which it does not, the fact remains that the policy is illegal.”

O’Neal also wrote that she has done some investigating, and several other students in the school who are not black ‘‘far exceed the stated policy. This finding compels but one conclusion — the Browns’ son has been singled-out for expulsion simply because he is African-American.”

While all this drama unfolds and the 3-year old’s enrollment at SMCA hangs in the balance, Brown said Jayce wakes up every morning asking, ‘‘Do I get to see Miss Lonfontant today?” — referring to his teacher at the school.

And Brown said she doesn’t have the heart to tell him yet that someday very soon he might have to go to a different school.

‘‘If you call yourself a Christian school, then you are supposed to accept everyone, no matter the race or culture,” she said. ‘‘He loves it there. I don’t want to traumatize a 3-year-old based on someone’s ignorance.”

E-mail Jacqueline Rabe at