'This Is Our Culture': School Blasted for Telling Black Student to Cut Locs

A Florida high school came under fire last week for prohibiting a Black honors student from walking across the stage at his high school graduation without cutting his dreadlocks.

Abeka Academy in Pensacola issued an apology on Tuesday after the student's mother launched a Change.org petition in protest, gaining over 53,000 signatures.

"Abeka Academy apologizes for the insensitive rule of 'no dreadlocks' in the dress and hair guidelines for our optional homeschool graduation," the school said in a statement posted to Instagram and Facebook. "This does not reflect our desire to respect and serve the broad diversity among ABA students. Therefore, we have removed this reference from our requirements."

In screenshots shared with Black With No Chaser, Latrenda Rush revealed how the school had denied her straight-A son Jacob Rush the opportunity to participate in his graduation ceremony without removing his dreadlocks.

"I noticed that Jacob's hair does not meet the requirements for marching at graduation," said an email from administrator Karen Northrop last week, according to a screenshot. "As a reminder, for the graduates participating in the ceremony, we ask the gentlemen to have hair tapered and may not come over the ears, eyebrows, or collar [no braids, dreadlocks, buns, or ponytails]."

After Jacob's mother pushed back on the requirement, she allegedly received another email from Faith Anderson, Assistant Principal for Academics at the school. "After further review, Abeka Academy must stay consistent with the hair guidelines," a screenshot of Anderson's message said. She added that if the family chose not to comply, Jacob would "receive his diploma and diploma cover by mail once all academic work has been received and evaluated."

Outraged, Latrenda took to Change.org. "This is our culture...this is who we are!" she wrote in her petition. It was "inhumane" and "sickening" to see her son's diligence and academic rigor rewarded with rejection based on a hairstyle that was central to his heritage, she said.

In January, Dove released a research study on hair discrimination against Black girls at school in 2021. According to the study, 53 percent of Black mothers whose daughters had undergone hair discrimination said they experienced the prejudice as early as 5 years old. About 86 percent of teen Black girls said they experienced hair discrimination by age 12.

A bill called Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act of 2021 or the CROWN Act of 2021, which would "prohibit discrimination based on a person's hair texture or hairstyle if that style or texture is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin," is currently being debated in Congress.

Newsweek reached out to Jacob Rush and Abeka Academy for comment.

School Tells Black Student to Cut Locs
A Florida high school has come under fire for prohibiting a Black honors student from walking across the stage at his high school graduation without cutting his dreadlocks. Here, a college student with dreadlocks on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Rick Friedman / Contributor/Corbis Historical