A Florida teen has hit out at her private high school principal after he told her that her natural Afro was a ‘distraction’ to fellow students and must be ‘fixed.’
Jenesis Johnson, 17, was informed by Lynn Burgess, assistant principal at North Florida Christian in Tallahassee, that her full, natural hair was ‘not neat’ and ‘needs to be put in a style.’
‘It is fixed,’ she told WCTV of his demands, insisting that her natural hair already meets these criteria. Still, if she does not meet the demands of the North Florida Christian administration, she risks losing her enrollment at the private high school.
The demands from the school came as a surprise to the Florida teenager, particularly as she has been wearing her hair in an Afro style ‘on and off’ since seventh grade – and daily for the past seven months.
While Johnson admitted to her hair being large, she assured WCTV that she always sits in the back of the classroom, so as to not obstruct anyone’s view.
She added that the uproar over her locks began several weeks ago, when a teacher asked her: ‘How long are you rocking that hairstyle?’ The teacher’s inquiry then prompted other students to ask Johnson about the styling and upkeep of her Afro.
Just two days later, Johnson was called into the assistant principal’s office and informed her hair went against school policy.
In her criticism of Johnson’s hair style, the assistant principal pointed to the North Florida Christian school handbook, which states, ‘No faddish or extreme hairstyles, and hair should be neat and clean at all times. The administration will make the decision on any questionable styles.’
The extensive handbook later specifies, for ‘Young Men’ in particular, that ‘No fad haircuts are allowed. This includes but is not limited to Mohawks, designs cut into hair, colored tips, or Afros that if stretched would reach beyond the eyebrows or the collar.’
Interestingly, an archived version of the student handbook for the 2014-2015 school year makes no mention of Afro hairstyles.
Many, including Johnson and her mother, Lisa, are questioning not whether the rule exists – but why it exists in the first place.
‘You might say that it didn’t fit the handbook,’ Lisa told WCTV. ‘But I saw, and what she heard is a woman telling her that she’s not pretty; her hair does fit society.’
The school has yet to respond to requests for comment.
North Florida Christian is not the only school whose hair-related policies have caused an uproar. Earlier this year, students at Mystic Valley Regional Charter in Malden, Massachusetts were at risk of suspension if found to be wearing hair extensions, including braids.
The Massachusetts attorney general later sent a letter to the school, demanding they they cease ‘subjecting students of color, especially black students, to differential treatment’ regarding the school’s hair and make up policy.
However, as North Florida Christian is a private institution, they do not have to comply with anti-discrimination laws – a fact that leaves Johnson concerned for both her own academic future, and the future of others.
‘It hurts me. It’s hurting me. For my people behind me, the younger ones, they’re going to have hair like me,’ she told WCTV. ‘Why can’t they wear their natural hair?’
Johnson and her mother are still deciding how they will proceed for the coming school year.
While Johnson was allowed to finish the semester with her natural hairstyle, the school informed her that if she does not alter her Afro, they will issue her a refund for the coming term.