A high school principal in Houston is under fire for a recently implemented dress code policy that tells parents what they can and cannot wear on school property.
Don’t bother showing up at James Madison High School in hair rollers, any type of protective hair covering, pajamas, torn jeans, leggings, sagging pants, or dresses that are “up to your behind,” noted a letter from Principal Carlotta Outley Brown to parents.
The communication followed an incident in which KPRC-TV in Houston reported that mother Joselyn Lewis was turned away from the school when she attempted to enroll her daughter. School officials said her hair scarf and T-shirt dress were not in compliance with the school’s dress code.
But Lewis was just protecting her hair, she claimed. Scarves and other types of hair coverings like satin caps and bonnets are commonly worn by African American women to protect their hair from moisture and other damaging elements. Parents, community members, and teachers quickly voiced objections to the policy.
“I’m sorry, this principal may have plenty of money and time to go to the hairdresser weekly and have her stuff done,” Houston Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo told the Houston Chronicle. “Who are you to judge others who may not have the same opportunities that you do? Having a wrap on your head is not offensive. It should not be controversial.”
Brown, who is also African American, made clear that setting high expectations for the school’s students motivated her.
“Parents, we do value you as a partner in your child’s education. You are your child’s first teacher,” Brown wrote. “However, please know we have to have standards, most of all we must have high standards.” She explained that in order to effectively prepare for the future, students need to know what appropriate attire is for professional situations like a job interview, or visiting someone in a business setting.
In a school that lags far behind the state averages in both English and Math, as well as SAT scores, it seems that Brown has good reasons to set the bar high. —L.E.