A Texas mother is asking for an apology from her daughter’s school after an administrator pulled the 9-year-old from class because she said the girl’s ponytails violated campus dress code.
Marian Reed also said the school could stand for some cultural sensitivity training since her daughter’s hair was styled in a way typical for many black girls who wear their hair naturally.
Reed’s third-grade daughter (she asked TODAY not to use the girl's name) went to school last week with her hair pulled into a row of six small ponytails often called Afro puffs.
But an assistant principal who saw the girl during her physical education class thought her hair was styled into a “faux hawk,” which violated the school dress code.
“That night, my daughter came home crying,” said Reed told TODAY, explaining that her daughter feared losing friends because she had gotten in trouble at school.
“She also said, ‘They won’t want to be my friends because my hair is not as pretty as the assistant principle’s,’ who has very straight hair," she said.
Reed said her daughter’s hair was styled in the same way it's been since kindergarten.
The only difference was that before, her daughter wore long synthetic braids, which were recently taken out.
“My daughter’s natural hair does not lay flat. When I styled it that day, we didn’t put it in a mohawk or a faux hawk. It was simply a quick, kid-friendly hairstyle. Never thought twice about it,” Reed said.
A call to Tarver Elementary School, the girl's school in Temple, Texas, was referred to the school district’s office.
A spokeswoman for the Belton Independent School District told TODAY she could not talk about the case specifics because of confidentiality rules.
Bus she said several other students at the school also have been called out of class because of their hairstyles.
“In this particular situation, the focus was on consistency,” said Charlotte Trejo, the district’s executive director for campus leadership. “The bottom line is that the principal was trying to be consistent with other decisions that she had made on the campus about dress code and hair style. That is the main thing.”
The school’s dress code policy states that “any clothing, hairstyle, or jewelry that could be interpreted as indecent or disruptive to the educational process is not permitted.”
It mentions “extreme hairstyles, designs cut in hair, mohawks, faux-hawks” as examples.
“Disciplining a child for a dress code violation is not the goal or typically what happens. It’s to resolve the issue so that the dress code is in compliance,” Trejo said. “We work very hard to resolve issues so that the education of the child is not interrupted.”
Reed said she agreed with the dress code rules but argued that her daughter's hair was not a distraction.
She also emphasized she is not trying to get any school administrators in trouble or disciplined. She simply wants the school to acknowledge that the situation should have been handled differently.
More Parenting Tips videos
Fun ways to keep the kids busy on a rainy summer day
‘I Mom So Hard’ creators on taking kids on vacation: ‘Don’t do it!’
Is it normal to have a favorite child (or dislike your spouse)?
Allison Williams talks about program to stop kids’ summer brain drain
“What I explained to the assistant principal is she could have called me to discuss my daughter’s hair instead of humiliating her. You didn’t have to pull her out of class, nor did you have to have that conversation with me with her in the room,” she said.
“You’ve made her think that her natural hair is not pretty enough. She’s a child. It’s something she’ll never forget that and already she’s questioning her image.”
That's why Reed wants the school to invest in cultural and racial sensitivity training.
But Trejo said all district principals and teacher already undergo a “Safe and Civil Schools” training program that goes over expectations to maintain “a high degree of respect in how we treat each other.”
Reed said that’s not enough.
"Own up to it and apologize. Just like I expect my daughter to own up to anything she does, and admit when she makes a mistake, I want them to do the same thing," she said.
For the time being, Reed's daughter wears her hair back in a headband and in a one large Afro puff, which has been difficult because brushing the girl’s coarse hair into a single ponytail requires a lot of detangling.
"I've always emphasized to my daughter that she's beautiful. She’s beautiful the way she is. I’m biased, of course, but she’s just a 9-year-old girl," she said.
"She wasn’t trying to make any type of statement with her hair. She was just being 9.”
Follow TODAY.com writer Eun Kyung Kim on Twitter.