A Texas school district that penalized a 4-year-old boy for his hairstyle has been acquainted with his protective grandmother.
During an August “Meet a Teacher” event at the Tatum Independent School District, Randi Woodley, was sent to the principal’s office. “Someone said there is a problem with my grandson’s hair,” Woodley, 50, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
The boy, under Woodley’s care since the age of four months, wears his natural hair long and flowing or in a ponytail.
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But the principal told Woodley that her grandson’s hair isn’t district-compliant. Male students cannot use hair dye or wear ponytails, rat-tails, duck-tails (a slicked-back style), man buns, and puff balls. Boys’ hair also cannot extend below the top of a shirt collar.
“The principal said I could braid his hair and hold it up with Bobby pins — a safety hazard for an active boy his age — or cut it off,” says Woodley.
The grandmother met with superintendent Dr. J.P. Richardson, who she says, gave the same instructions, plus a third choice. “I asked him how the dress code accommodated transgender students,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “He said, if I was that passionate about this, to put a dress on my grandson and instruct him to tell people that he is a girl. That floored me.”
Woodley says the dress code is discriminatory because the banned styles are usually worn by black students. Although dreadlocks aren’t mentioned in the rulebook, long hair isn’t allowed. “Locs continue to grow,” she points out. “In my mind, the school knows that.”
The grandmother has contacted the civil rights organizations the NAACP and the National Urban League and she’s talking to a legal organization in Atlanta. Woodley says the latter team accepted her case free-of-charge and has contacted the district for a resolution.
Woodley now gets her grandson’s hair professionally braided and pinned each week, despite her low income. In July, the grandmother was laid off from her job as a heavy-equipment operator at a coal mine. “My grandson cries sitting so long for his braids,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “And since he plays outside during the day, I can’t properly wash his hair.”
Woodley is keeping an evidence file to prove that — for now — she’s compliant. Every morning and afternoon, she takes a photo of her son’s hair.
But the community isn’t letting the issue go. Over 4,500 people signed a Change.org petition called “The Civil Rights Violation of a Four Year Old African-American Tatum, Texas Boy.”
“When will the racial discrimination and injustice towards our sons, brothers, uncles, husbands, and friends stop,” says the petition. “Really a four-year-old boy. We need to be his voice. Please lend your signature to this petition to tell Tatum, Texas we will not be bullied into cutting his hair.”
Woodley is selling $18 t-shirts printed with the hashtag #IStandWithTink (her grandson’s nickname), and the phrase “My hair is my crown” with his picture.
On Monday, according to KETK-TV, several parents, including Woodley spoke at a Tatum ISD school board meeting. The mother of a kindergartener with dreadlocks said she wanted to pull his hair into a ponytail to beat the Texas heat, but that violates dress code.
Richardson did not respond to a voicemail and email from Yahoo Lifestyle.
“I can’t afford to move to a new school district — and why should I?” Woodley tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We’re preaching equality and for kids to embrace their individuality.”
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