Rockville Catholic school’s hairstyle policies face scrutiny for racial discrimination

A private school run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., in Rockville, Maryland, is facing scrutiny for policies in its student handbook banning braids, cornrows, twists or dreadlocks, rules which parents of Black children feel are discriminatory.

In a letter to St. Jude Regional Catholic School, Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando said a constituent preparing to send her child to the school had reached out to say she was “extremely distressed” about the school’s hairstyle policy.

He said because the school’s handbook requires students to be “properly groomed, neat, and clean,” that it “implies that these hairstyles are not.”

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said the school was in the process of reviewing and updating the section of the student handbook that deals with hairstyles, and that the policy “had not been enforced any time recently to allow for cultural expression for young men and women of all nationalities and cultures.”

“As part of ongoing review, our schools will continue to update this and all our policies in order to serve best our students and families,” the Archdiocese said in a statement. “Our principals have been participating in training around culturally responsive classrooms and schools, and have been encouraged to assess many aspects of school instruction and operations, including dress code and hairstyle policies.”

Jawando, along with Council member Nancy Navarro, introduced the CROWN Act — which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. The legislation prohibits discrimination on hairstyles that form as a result of the natural textures of a person’s hair associated with race. Under the CROWN Act, styles such as braids, locks, afros, curls and twists are protected.

The CROWN Act was first passed in Montgomery County before being adopted by the state of Maryland.

Because it is a private school, St. Jude is not obligated to comply with the CROWN Act, but Jawando called for it to adopt the policies anyways.

“On behalf of the more than 200,000 African American residents of Montgomery County who aspire to be free to share the beauty of their God given natural hair, I strongly urge you to comply with the CROWN Act and end this discriminatory policy,” Jawando said in his letter to the Archdiocese.

Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

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