Mom takes on schools that don’t approve of son’s long, natural hair


FILE photo – filmstudio/iStock(LONDON) — One mother is taking a stand to try to change school policies she says restrict boys from having long hair.Bonnie Miller’s 8-year-old son, Farouk James, has become an Instagram star with more than 270,000 followers, posing for snaps with his big and bright natural hair.U.K. policies banning long hair for boysWhile researching and visiting possible schools for her son, Miller said she was shocked to learn about some of the schools’ strict policies.One of the mother-son duo’s top choices, Fulham Boys School in London, for example, outlines its stance on hair length.”Hairstyles should be tidy and of a conventional nature, no extreme haircuts including sculpting, shaving, dreadlocks or braiding are allowed,” the Fulham Boys School policy reads. “The maximum hair length is above the collar and the minimum hair length is a number 2 cut. Hair must be one natural colour. Parents are strongly advised to seek advice on the acceptability of hairstyles that may be considered ‘different’ before allowing their son to adopt such a style. School reserves the right to insist on re-styling if it considers the style inappropriate.”Miller strongly believes this rule is unfair for boys of diverse backgrounds.”It’s a racial issue,” she told GMA.”We all know what kind of boys would have dreadlocks and braids,” Miller adds. “Generally, it’s black boys or mixed boys. We’re not talking about Caucasian children here … it’s very unlikely.””I’m going to talk up, and I might get backlash or I may even be risking my child’s chance of even going to these schools now, because now they know my name,” says Miller. “I’m willing to take the risk because it’s not just for the good of Farouk, it’s the good of all.”The state of natural hair discrimination in the United KingdomThe passing of laws in California and New York banning discrimination on people with natural hair textures, has also began to strike the attention of the state of natural hair in the United Kingdom as well.In 2018, Zina Alfa started a petition calling for a ban on hair discrimination in the U.K. to be sent to the country’s government. She was initially triggered after being forced to take out her braids because one of her teachers allegedly didn’t like them.”Natural and protective hairstyles including afros, braids, and dreadlocks are traditional ways to express our heritage and simply have our hair,” the petition states. “It is because this is not understood, that young children are subjected to being punished by teachers or bullied by peers. When we’re not attacked, we also experienced people that see our hair, touch it, and grab it without permission — making us uncomfortable.”Miller has also taken things a step further with her own petition to be sent to the Houses of Parliament.”If you agree that rules for females universally should be the same for males, please sign this petition and help make a change for the current and future generations,” the petition reads.”I think the only way it’s going to change is if the Houses of Parliament change the law to prohibit schools from making such diabolical policies, which are clearly discriminatory, sexist, racist and unfair,” says Miller. “I think everyone needs to change their rules, and I think that the way I was thinking it could be done and is if the law was changed that schools are prohibited from allowing these rules.”Farouk has a massive platform that allows him to star in everything from high-fashion ad campaigns to New York runways.He described his hair as “unique” and an attribute he really loves about himself that also inspires many others, Farouk told Good Morning America.”His father’s from Ghana so culturally, his family told me not to cut it until he was three,” says Miller. “Well, that was part of the cultural thing, so I agreed to not cut his hair until he’s three. But obviously we didn’t expect it would grow as much as it did and it just kept on growing.”She also reminisces on how doctors couldn’t initially tell if Farouk was a boy or a girl when she was carrying him in her stomach. “But, they could see he had loads of hair,” Miller says.Miller mentions that Farouk has communicated how unhappy he will be if he has to cut his hair as it is a strong part of his identity.A matter of choice vs. limited optionsWhile Farouk has roughly two more years before he will have to switch schools, Miller fears that he will not be admitted into some of best higher-performing institutions because of his hair.”Farouk is very academic and very bright, so he needs to go to a school that can stretch him, and a lot of his friends will be going to these schools,” she explains as primary reasons for wanting to send Farouk to a school such as Fulham as well as London Oratory School for boys, which has a similar policy.”Hair must be of a straightforward style, tidy and clear of the face and shirt collar, and must retain its natural colour,” the policy states. “The face must be clean-shaven and sideboards must not extend below the middle of the ear. Peculiar, ostentatious or bizarre styles are unacceptable. Examples of unacceptable styles are: bleached, dyed, tinted or highlighted hair; closely cropped hair (including cuts described as ‘numbers 1, 2 or 3’); and lines or patterns cut into the hair. Gel and similar substances are not allowed. Pupils whose hair styles are unacceptable will not be allowed to remain in School and risk disciplinary action, including exclusion.”With a strong religious background, Miller also points out that these are faith-based schools, and she has hopes of sending Farouk to a Catholic school like London Oratory or a Christian school like Fulham.Additionally, one of the most important reasons for these schools relates to how close in proximity they are to their home. “Farouk is very well known on Instagram, so he’s known on the streets,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to risk him having to travel across London to go to another type of school.”With the other schools being located further away, Miller is concerned with James’ safety commuting as well as how much longer it takes her to get to him if he is in need.She also adds, he will, unfortunately, be further away from close friends he has grown up with and would like to continue his education alongside.To avoid issues with the schools, Miller has also considered mixed-sex schools. However, she has found policies from those institutions to be potentially “sexist.”One of several schools she mentions is St. Thomas More Language College, which allows girls to keep their hair long as long as it is kept fully tied back. However, for boys’ hair, the policy outlines that it should not be “too short or too long.”She says she’s made several attempts to call these schools but is continuously referred to review policies posted online.Fulham Boys School made headlines in 2017 when a student, Chikayzea Flanders, was told his dreadlocks had to be cut off or he would face suspension, The Guardian reported.The school has since reportedly settled with Flanders where an understanding was made that the school’s uniform policy and the ban on dreadlocks resulted in “indirect discrimination.” He was invited to return should he agree to keep his dreadlocks tied up or covered with a cloth that the school approved. However, reports said he has since moved on to another school.Alun Ebenezer, the headmaster of Fulham Boys School, took to Twitter to speak out on the ban on long hair, stating, “Our strict uniform and appearance policy means you cannot tell the haves from the have nots. FBS is no way racist.”

1/4 To be clear. What I actually said was that we are a strict academic boys school with high standards of behaviour, uniform and appearance. We are a truly comprehensive school which is reflected in our intake. Nearly 30% of our boys come from homes where they have the means…

— Alun Ebenezer (@AlunEbenezer) January 16, 2020

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.