Black student, 14, will LEAVE South Dakota Catholic school after refusing to cut dreadlocks

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A black student at a Catholic school in South Dakota will have to leave the school after he was told to cut his dreadlocks by administrators, forcing his parents to defend their son and his hair.

Braxton Schafer, 14, and his mother were told by the assistant principal at O’Gorman High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to cut his dreadlocks as it is a policy violation under the school’s current regulations.¬†

The assistant principal, Joan Mahoney, approached Braxton’s mother Toni at a school open house and raised concerns about the hairstyle, saying that O’Gorman’s policy is that boys’ hair cannot be ‘touching the collar.’

Toni said this is the first time the school system has raised concerns about Braxton’s hair and that her son has been donning the same hairdo since he enrolled in the Catholic school system in 2018.

While Toni did not explicitly say the school was discriminating against her son, who she and her husband adopted as a newborn, her implication was clear: ‘Their reason for him cutting his hair had nothing to do with the policy. He’s always been an outsider,’ she said.¬†

Braxton (center) with his parents Toni and Derrick, who say O'Gorman Catholic School's hair policy is unfair on their son, who needs his hair as it is a 'crown'

Braxton (center) with his parents Toni and Derrick, who say O’Gorman Catholic School’s hair policy is unfair on their son, who needs his hair as it is a ‘crown’

The issue with Braxton's hair is not the style but the length - school policy dictates boys' hair cannot go below the collar

The issue with Braxton's hair is not the style but the length - school policy dictates boys' hair cannot go below the collar

The issue with Braxton’s hair is not the style but the length – school policy dictates boys’ hair cannot go below the collar

'Your choices are you cut your hair if you want to stay, or if you don't want to cut you're hair, we're going to have to go,' Derrick told his son, to which Braxton responded he wouldn't cut it

'Your choices are you cut your hair if you want to stay, or if you don't want to cut you're hair, we're going to have to go,' Derrick told his son, to which Braxton responded he wouldn't cut it

‘Your choices are you cut your hair if you want to stay, or if you don’t want to cut you’re hair, we’re going to have to go,’ Derrick told his son, to which Braxton responded he wouldn’t cut it

Assistant principal Joan Mahoney, pictured, approached Toni Schafer at a school open house and said Braxton needed to cut the length of his hair

Assistant principal Joan Mahoney, pictured, approached Toni Schafer at a school open house and said Braxton needed to cut the length of his hair

Assistant principal Joan Mahoney, pictured, approached Toni Schafer at a school open house and said Braxton needed to cut the length of his hair

She then reached out to the school principal, Joan Mahoney, to discuss the school policy on hair and why cutting Braxton’s hair was not going to happen.¬†

She said in the email that the length of Braxton’s dreadlocks had even more cultural significance than the hairstyle itself.

‘The important part of that cultural piece is the length of the lock, not the actual lock itself,’ she said.¬†

‘Strength, pride and a part of him,’ she said of the dreadlocks. ‘A piece of him that we won’t understand and most people in South Dakota don’t understand.’¬†

When she met with school administrators on Friday, the two parties were still unable to resolve the issue after they said even if Braxton tied his hair up, it would be a policy violation. 

While they never said the word expel, Toni felt they alluded to the possibility that Braxton would be forced to leave the school because of his hair. 

‘This is about my son,’ she said. ‘I want him to be able to be comfortable.’¬†

A spokesperson for the school strongly disagreed that the school was implying he would be forced to leave: ‘Despite representations to the contrary, at no time did school administrators tell the parents that if the student did not cut his hair, he would have to leave or be expelled.’

‘The meeting with the parents ended with the understanding that further dialogue would occur in the hope of finding a resolution that would allow the student to remain at our school,’ they insisted.¬†

The school has agreed to let Braxton finish the semester without changing his hair so he can see out his football and marching band seasons

The school has agreed to let Braxton finish the semester without changing his hair so he can see out his football and marching band seasons

The school has agreed to let Braxton finish the semester without changing his hair so he can see out his football and marching band seasons

The school, located in Sioux Falls, the capital of South Dakota, reevaluates its policies every 5 years, and last did so in 2018

The school, located in Sioux Falls, the capital of South Dakota, reevaluates its policies every 5 years, and last did so in 2018

The school, located in Sioux Falls, the capital of South Dakota, reevaluates its policies every 5 years, and last did so in 2018

President of O'Gorman Catholic Schools Kyle Groos said the strict policies allow students to 'focus on their faith, their service to others, academics and their own friendships'

President of O'Gorman Catholic Schools Kyle Groos said the strict policies allow students to 'focus on their faith, their service to others, academics and their own friendships'

President of O’Gorman Catholic Schools Kyle Groos said the strict policies¬†allow students to ‘focus on their faith, their service to others, academics and their own friendships’

Braxton said he loves the school and his friends there, but will not capitulate to the school's demands and will keep his hair

Braxton said he loves the school and his friends there, but will not capitulate to the school's demands and will keep his hair

Braxton said he loves the school and his friends there, but will not capitulate to the school’s demands and will keep his hair

School administrators eventually agreed to let Braxton finish the semester at the school with his hair so he can finish his football and marching band seasons. 

Their reasoning was that Braxton’s hair had not been addressed in junior high school so he should be allowed to at least finish out the semester.

O’Gorman Catholic Schools reevaluated every five years, and the most recent meeting on the subject was in 2018, when 80% of parents opted to keep the policy pertaining to hair length.

President of O’Gorman Catholic Schools Kyle Groos said ‘we’d love to have Braxton in our school, without a doubt, he’s a great young man.’

But he also said they cannot change the policy until at least 2023: ‘That is what the dress code is at this moment.’

‘Could that change when we review it here in the spring of 2023 and into the fall? It might. I don’t know at this moment,’ he said.¬†

Groos called the policy an ‘important part of who we are.’

He said the school’s policy is important because it provides ‘structure and discipline’ that is necessary to allow students to ‘focus on their faith, their service to others, academics and their own friendships.’¬†

He also reiterated that the style ‘is not the issue’ the school has, but the length.¬†

But Toni said the length is the point of the hairstyle, and called Braxton’s hairstyle a ‘crown of strength, power and spirituality.’

‘It’s in the length, and making yourself a crown,’ she said defiantly.

But despite the importance of his hair length, Braxton’s father, Derrick, understood there was a hard choice to make.¬†

‘Your choices are you cut your hair if you want to stay, or if you don’t want to cut you’re hair, we’re going to have to go,’ Derrick told his son.¬†

He says Braxton responded that ‘he loves the school, he loves the kids, but he doesn’t want to cut his hair.’¬†

A teary-eyed Toni lamented that people were looking at the situation as ‘it’s just hair, cut it.’

‘They’re the ones that need to look in the mirror at themselves,’ she said.¬†¬†