Malden charter school board suspends hair policy for rest of school year

The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School Board decided to suspend its controversial hair policy effective immediately Sunday evening at its meeting.

"We're optimistic, but we are not done with this fight," said the father of two girls at the center of the issue, Aaron Cook.

The school discussed its hair/makeup policy at its Sunday meeting following the office of the Attorney General calling it "unlawful" and ordering them to stop enforcing it immediately.  The AG's office also said the policy targeted students of color.

At the meeting Sunday, the board immediately went into executive session, without taking public comment. Around 9:15 p.m., the board announced the policy will be suspended for the rest of the school year. Interim School Director Alexander Dan said the decision was unanimous and the punishments have been lifted.

"The school will continue to work with the Attorney General's office that the uniform policy reflects our long-standing commitment to the rights of all of our students," said Dan.

“The Board took the right action to suspend its discriminatory policy, and now needs to rescind it permanently. We are proud of the two young women, Deanna and Mya Cook, and their parents, for standing up for themselves and their rights," said Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.

As first reported on Boston 25 News, parents of two students at Mystic Valley Regional Charter said their daughters, Mya and Deanna Cook, were kicked off their sports teams and barred from proms as part of discipline for refusing to take out their braided extensions.

The school's hair and makeup policy prohibits extensions, hair more than 2 inches in thickness or height, shaved lines, also known as fades, and unnatural or distracting hair color.

The Cook family argued the policy was racist and not enforced equally. The Attorney General's office agreed, saying it singled out students of color and they found evidence of white students with shaved sides and colored streaks.

"To the extent that MVRCS has applied the policy unequally to punish students of color more frequently or more harshly than other students, that too is clearly unlawful,” said a letter from the Attorney General's office issued Friday.

Mya and Deanna's father, Aaron Cook, told Boston 25 News that the board's decision is a first step in the right direction, but he still has some questions.

"It doesn't sound like they've changed the underlying policy. And it sounds like the enforcement has only been put on pause until the end of the school year," said Cook.

He also said students are planning to do a "sit-in" detention to show solidarity for the Cook girls, who wracked up 16 hours of detention as their punishment for having their braided extensions. It's unclear what will happen to all those detentions.

It's unclear what will happen next year in regards to the hair policy.

>>FULL STATEMENT: Massachusetts Charter Public School Association

“The Board took the right action to suspend its discriminatory policy, and now needs to rescind it permanently. We are proud of the two young women, Deanna and Mya Cook, and their parents, for standing up for themselves and their rights. And we applaud the efforts of state Attorney General Maura Healey, the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the ACLU in challenging the school’s policy. Charter schools aspire to develop cultural competence and achieve cultural proficiency. Our doors are open to all families. We celebrate diversity and teach mutual respect; our students learn from each other’s differences," said Marc Kenen.