As if we needed a reminder of the power of social media, a school in Australia has done a u-turn after asking twins girls of South Sudanese descent to remove their hair braids because they did not represent the school.
The story first broke last week when 16-year-old Grace and Tahbisa were pulled from their class at Bentleigh Secondary school, Melbourne and asked to remove their braids.
The heartbroken girls, who have worn their hair in braids since they were babies, claimed the request felt like an attack on their African culture.
“We were told that our hair doesn’t represent the school,” Grace told The Age.
“It’s not a problem and it doesn’t affect our education. They are asking us to look like everyone else.”
The girls argued that having their hair braided made it healthier and easier to manage and was part of their identity.
“It’s a protective style. It looks good and it keeps our hair growing,” Grace continued. “Your hair is your crown, it is about embracing yourself, accepting yourself. It is part of our identity.”
The school’s principal originally said the girls had to remove their braids to comply with the school’s “strict uniform policy” that “applies equally to all students.”
But after posting about their experience on a Women of Colour Facebook group, Grace and Tahbisa were inundated with messages of support and the school has now offered the girls an exemption.
“We are a welcoming school and I am absolutely comfortable with students expressing their cultural heritage,” the school’s Principal said in a statement, issued through the education department.
“The family has been offered a school uniform exemption. We will work with them on this so the girls can wear their new braided hairstyle to school. Our uniform policy is something the school has worked very hard on. Exemptions to the uniform policy are always available where appropriate in situations like this one.”
It isn’t the first time a row has erupted over hair braids. Last year, in the UK a girl with Afro hair was allegedly told to remove her braids and put her hair back to “normal”.
The Standard reported that fourteen-year-old Chyna Cowie-Sullivan returned to Fulston Manor School for the first day of term with the new hairstyle and said she was told that the “do breached school uniform policy.”
Chyna’s mother Leanne Sullivan claimed the school’s uniform policy was outdated and conflicted with the school’s equality and diversity policy.
“The school uniform policy is out of date and conflicts directly with the school’s equality and diversity policy, as my daughter’s hair style reflects her cultural background as it does the other mixed-race and black students who wear braid extensions,” she said.
The Head Teacher responded to the claims by confirming that the policy had not been updated recently and that it would be reviewed.