A Queens Catholic school’s hair policy banning cornrows has infuriated city and state officials — and prompted calls for an investigation of stringent guidelines that forced one mom to yank her little boy from his third grade class rather than chop off his braids.
As the Daily News exclusively reported, Jediah Batts, 8, was told in September that the braids he so proudly wore didn’t cut it at Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy in Jamaica — a ban that his mom, Lavona Batts, is now challenging in Queens Supreme Court. According to the lawsuit she filed Monday, the hair policy violates both city and state rules on hair discrimination.
Gov. Cuomo, whose younger brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, attended the school as a youngster according to ABC News, signed a law in July banning hair discrimination. And Cuomo spokesman, Jason Conwall, labeled the Batts’ experience as “discrimination” and “completely unacceptable.”
City officials unveiled similar guidance in February, prohibiting schools and businesses from banning traditionally black hairstyles like cornrows and locs.
On Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio said he’d be “looking into this.”
“For too long, kids who look like Jediah have been treated as less than because of the texture of their hair. It’s unacceptable, it’s appalling and that’s why we’ve BANNED it in New York City.My team’s looking into this,” he tweeted.
For too long, kids who look like Jediah have been treated as less than because of the texture of their hair. It’s unacceptable, it’s appalling and that’s why we’ve BANNED it in New York City.
My team's looking into this. https://t.co/xeuJdbFU2Y
Similarly, City Council speaker Corey Johnson (D - Manhattan) called the Queens school’s rule “appalling," and suggested a probe.
“It’s unacceptable,” he said. “The city’s Commission on Human Rights should look into this. I am heartbroken to hear how this young boy was treated at this school. No one should be treated that way in New York City because of their hair.”
De Blasio spokeswoman Laura Feyer added the Human Rights Commission is “looking into all possible remedies, including training, to ensure this doesn’t happen to another student.”
“Children should not be forced to choose between their education and their hairstyle,” she said. “We applaud Jediah for speaking out about his experience.”
State Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D - Bronx), who co-sponsored the state bill, said Batts’ story shows how stringent rules targeting black hairstyles can get in the way of a child’s education.
“Your ability to learn has nothing to do with your hair,” he said. “His teacher welcomed him, it seemed like he was fitting in, until the principal saying that we don’t accept this here.”
Batts alleged in the lawsuit the school’s principal pulled Jediah and his grandmother aside on the first day of school and told her “we don’t accept this here" while rubbing the top of the boy’s head.
“That kind of language is never okay,” Bailey said. “From anybody, much less a school administrator.”
State Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright (D - Brooklyn), the other sponsor of the bill, said the state law doesn’t prevent institutions from practicing their religious beliefs, but it does prevent them from implementing “thinly veiled” discriminatory policies that aren’t directly about religious expression.
Officials at the school and the Brooklyn Diocese could not be reached for comment.