ORLANDO, Fla. – A 6-year-old with dreadlocks was told Monday he could not start first grade at a private Christian school near Apopka without getting a haircut.
His upset father feared it was racism that kept his black son from A Book’s Christian Academy. But the school’s administrator said its short-hair policy is decades old, a standard Christian school rule and hasn’t kept other black youngsters from enrolling.
“I respect their rules, but it’s not right,” Stanley said. “Allow kids to come as they are. You are a Christian school. In the Bible, it says come as you are,” he added. “You deny a kid an education on his hair?”
Clinton Stanley Sr. used his cellphone to film his reaction after he took his son – dressed in the school uniform of navy pants, a button-down shirt and tie – to the campus and was told the boy could not go to class without first getting a haircut.
His video, posted Monday on Facebook, has been viewed about 78,000 times and has prompted thousands of comments, many supportive but some also noting such hair rules are common in private religious schools or questioning why he chose the school.
Sue Book, the school’s administrator, said her school’s hair rules have been in place since the academy was founded in 1971 and are similar to those at nearby private schools.
Stanley’s video prompted an unfair backlash against the school, she said, which has had to call the police several times because of harassing phone calls, including one from a man who threatened to burn the school down and another who said he was driving from Georgia to protest the school’s actions, she said.
“I’ve had all kinds of obscene, ugly calls,” Book said. “It’s just hard.”
Stanley said he was never told the school wouldn’t allow his son, Clinton Stanley Jr., to wear his dreadlocks, some of which hang below his chin. He said he wouldn’t have enrolled the boy he calls C.J. if he’d known about that rule. Someone later posted online a link to the school’s handbook, which included the school’s requirement for short hair and no dreadlocks, so he said he has now read the rules.
But they still don’t make a lot of sense, Stanley said. The school’s message is “all kids are created in the image of God,” he added, yet all are not welcome.
Stanley said his son’s hairstyle isn’t what he would choose for himself, but the boy asked for the longer hair because that is the way his godfather wears his hair. The school, he added, seemed to view the style as something worn by “hoodlums” and, because it is mostly worn by black people, “You’re disassociating yourself of people of color.”
Stanley was using a Florida school scholarship, or voucher, to pay to send his son to private school. Though A Book’s and other private schools take state-backed tuition payments, they are free to set their own rules when it comes to student behavior and dress, teacher credentials and curriculum.
Some do not allow openly gay students to enroll or prohibit youngsters from watching certain movies or listening to certain music. Many have strict rules related to school uniforms and hairstyles. Some hire teachers without college degrees, require instructors to be “born-again believers” and use Bible-based lessons that challenge mainstream science and history taught in public schools.
Book said her school’s hair rules are neither new nor unusual.
“No dreads,” she said. “All of our boys have short hair. It’s the style of hair. We don’t allow it. We never have.”
Ninety-five percent of her students are black, she said. So the policy does not keep black parents from enrolling their children “if they want what I offer,” Book added, which includes a focus on fundamental academics and patriotism.
Initially, Stanley and his son asked the school if there was another option.
“Daddy, can I just pull it up in a ponytail?” the boy asked.
But the family was told he needed a haircut to attend school there.
He and his wife picked the school for their son because their nephew had gone there, and they thought it would offer small classes and lots of one-on-one time with a teacher.
After being turned away Monday morning, Stanley, his wife and son decided to enroll C.J. in their local public school, Lovell Elementary School, where he started classes Tuesday.
“That went fine. He’s in school now,” his father said.
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