Headgear Policy Turns Heads: School Board Faces Challenges in Determining School Handbook Updates

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By Taylor Giuffre-Catalano

Governor Charlie Baker joined 17 other states with similar protections and signed the Crown Act into state politics on July 26. The policy – ​​which was enacted in an effort to prevent people from being discriminated against because of their natural or protective hairstyle – was inspired by the twin sisters who were disciplined by their charter high school on the pretext of policy violations for wearing their hair in braids with long extensions. Following the enactment of the Crown Act, employers and school districts have been urged to review and update their non-discrimination policies to comply.

The Revere School Committee addressed the issue of Crown law compliance at their recent meeting on September 20. The speech was opened when the Superintendent of Schools, Dr Dianne Kelly, expressed concern over the “headgear policy”, pointing to the “high school textbook in particular”. She noted that, “based on reading the law,” the policy she cited in the high school textbook was, in fact, “in violation of the law.”

“My main concern,” Dr. Kelly explained, “is that one of the parts that [the handbook] included was that students were not allowed to wear head coverings, which would imply that they cannot wear durags.

The conversation then opened up to committee members, who were challenged to find a solution to the textbook policy that did not breach the Crown Act.

One of the main concerns expressed by the school committee was the lack of reference materials, such as a historical case or direct guidance from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), by which they could reframe the language of the textbook. .

Committee member Stacey Rizzo opened the discussion by explaining, “Our policy doesn’t say if you wear a hat or if you don’t wear a hat.” She went on to express her interest in “meeting with some students to review [the handbook policy].” She said the current policy is “too wordy”, but “says nothing about hats”.

Dr Kelly agreed, noting that “an adjustment to the language of the textbook, suggested by the secondary school principal, was rejected by [the School Committee] in June.” Dr. Kelly explained that the wording of the current manual stated that “no headgear is permitted”. As a result, she expressed concern that “this room…is in violation of the law”.

Ms. Rizzo refuted: “Regardless of what is in [the handbook], we have to be careful. She explained that until MCAD makes a recommendation or future plan on how to approach the Crown Act, it must be taken “on a case-by-case basis”. She explained her concern, citing a need for “more guidance” on the matter in regards to amending the manual with specificity for hats. She thought the current policy, written by Revere High School principal Christopher Bowen, was sufficient until the district heard from MCAD.

Committee member Susan Gravellese expressed her opinion saying, “I think at this point we should revisit [the handbook language] and maybe think about rephrasing what we have. She noted that the revision to the hats policy was rejected in June 2021, but the committee had since received feedback from students that they “wanted to wear the hats”.

On the legal front, committee member Aisha Milbury Ellis said, “At the moment it’s a matter of interpretation.” She explained the need to ensure that district policy, as well as manual language, uses “clear” language. “Once we have more guidance,” noted Milbury Ellis, “we can think about modifying it to be consistent.” Milbury Ellis also raised the idea that advice could also come from “a [legal] case decision”, even before the formal recommendation of MCAD.

Milbury Ellis recommended that this concern be referred to the policy subcommittee, which could “deal specifically with this task”. She noted her willingness to carry out research into this concern and recommended that fellow members do the same to ensure “that this policy is compliant”.

Committee member Michael Ferrante then requested that the Crown Act concern be forwarded to the subcommittee for further consideration. Ms Rizzo added that the district should “follow Crown law as it is at this time”. Accordingly, the committee unanimously agreed to consider these concerns more carefully in the subcommittee, with the possible intention of changing the wording to comply directly with the Crown Act, once that new legal guidelines will have been provided.

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