June 04, 2020
Texas teenager Kienjanae Hooper "KJ" is being denied her graduation stage walk at Gladewater High School due to her hairstyle.
A High School senior at Gladewater High School, Texas, was informed early this week by the school that she would not be permitted to walk amongst her peers on stage during graduation because of her braided hairstyle.
Kieana Hooper stated that the principal of the school, Cathy Bedair, phoned her on Monday and informed that her 18-year-old daughter would not be able to participate in her graduation ceremony this Friday.
The principal also stated that "KJ" would not be allowed to receive her diploma either unless she changes her hair. Hooper expressed her bemusement at the timing of the mandate. She said,
"I said, 'I'm totally blown away when you've never said anything about this last year or this year. We've got four days before graduation.'"
Hooper and her daughter are demanding that KJ be allowed to attend the ceremony. Their attorney, Waukeen McCoy, branded the school's decision as a case of systematic racism. McCoy asserted:
"It is appalling that in this day and age schools are worried about black hairstyles, specifically braids and/or colored braids… We will hold them accountable..."
However, the school claims there has been a misunderstanding as an attorney representing the school suggested that Hooper misinterpreted the principal's comments.
According to her, Bedair only called when she saw that KJ's hair was "no longer a natural color" and told her that it needed to be changed to meet the school's dress code policy which states:
"[hair] shall be clean, trimmed from eyes, and well groomed."
The school's attorney maintains that Gladewater ISD does not understand how the confusion arose. Mrs. Hooper insists that principal Bedair clearly stated that her daughter would need to remove her braids to graduate.
The mother also added that when she inquired as to why the change was necessary, the principal declined to answer. A Gladewater Independent School District Superintendent later claimed the matter had been resolved. However, Mrs. Hooper insists it hadn't.
She said Bedair later insisted that KJ could attend the ceremony, provided she covers her hair with a cap, which Hooper maintains her daughter will not be doing.
Hooper's situation is by no means novel. Another Texas student, DeAndre Arnold, was suspended in January and told he wouldn't be permitted at his high school graduation because of his dreadlocks.
Arnold's story attracted widespread reactions from various celebrities, with most of them condemning the school's actions.