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Malden Charter School Criticized For Punishing 2 Black Students Wearing Hair Extensions

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A Malden charter school defended its policy Friday of preventing students from wearing hair extensions, a rule that some say is racially insensitive.

First reported by The Boston Globe, two 15-year-old black students at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, Deanna and Mya Cook, say they've faced detention for breaking the school's policy on hair extensions.

Mystic Valley officials say the ban on hair extensions is designed to minimize distractions to keep students' focus on education.

In a statement, school officials said Mystic Valley creates student success by "focusing on what unites our students and by reducing visible gaps between those of different means. We foster a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion, or materialism."

Mystic Valley officials said the hair extension ban is in keeping with the school's desire to create an environment "that celebrates all that our students have in common and minimizes material differences and distractions."

Additionally, the school said hair extensions are "expensive" and that they could divide students from different "socioeconomic backgrounds."

Deanna and Mya Cook's mother, Colleen Cook, rejected the school's reasoning.

"Hair doesn't have anything to do with academia," Cook told WBUR. "As a matter of fact, if you're confident in your body and in yourself, and if your hair makes you feel good, you're going to do better."

Cook said the school's policy disrespects diversity because black students are more likely to wear hair extensions than other students.

Cook told WBUR Friday evening that she received a letter from Mystic Valley officials Friday afternoon when she picked her daughters up from school. Cook said the letter stated her daughters have each now accrued six hours of detentions and that the school wanted to know when it could schedule them. Cook said she has no intention of letting her daughters serve the detentions.

Civil rights groups and education advocates also joined Cook in criticizing Mystic Valley's hair extension policy.

Robert Trestan, New England regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he is worried the ban actually makes it harder for some students to learn.

"A level playing field is important and has value," Trestan said, "but it's only a level playing field if the policy is applied equitably and in this case the allegation is that it is not."

Officials from the ADL said they hoped to speak with the school about the concerns on the hair extension ban.

In a statement, the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association denounced Mystic Valley's policy and said it was "counter to everything we - as parents, as educators, as Association board members - stand for and teach in our schools."

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice said it sent the school a letter also criticizing the hair extension policy.

"Denying young black women their opportunity to express their cultural identity will not make the school safer, more orderly, or less 'distracting,'" the group said in a statement.

School officials say they are in contact with the students and parents who have become concerned over the policy.

With reporting by WBUR's Newscast Unit and Bob Shaffer

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