Catholic schools in New York City have banned boys from wearing their hair in braids, despite city and state laws that ban hair discrimination.
David Bloomfield, a professor of education law at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, told the New York Daily News that Catholic schools can opt out of the statutes because of religious freedom caveats.
New York's Dignity for All Students Act said the anti-discrimination law will not "apply to private, religious or denominational educational institutions."
The city's anti-discrimination statute exempts any "religious corporation incorporated under the education law."
More than a dozen Catholic schools in New York City have banned boys from wearing their hair in braids, despite city and state laws cracking down on hair discrimination, according to an investigation by the New York Daily News.
In February and June 2019, laws were signed by the city and state blocking black people from being discriminated against for wearing natural hairstyles, which forgo chemical teqniques in straightening hair. Styles include twists, braids, dreadlocks, and Afros.
But David Bloomfield, a professor of education law at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, told the Daily News that Catholic schools can ignore the measures because of religious freedoms.
The state's Dignity for All Students Act, has a caveat that says: "Nothing in this article shall … apply to private, religious or denominational educational institutions."
New York City's human rights law against discrimination exempts any "religious corporation incorporated under the education law."
"They're just exempted because they're religious institutions and can set whatever rules of decorum they wish, no matter how discriminatory or racist," said Bloomfield.
The Daily News found Catholic schools across Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx that ban male students from wearing braids.
"No cultural preferences will be allowed, such as boys with braided hair," a handbook from Christ the King School in the Bronx said.
St. John's School, also in the Bronx, prohibits "corn rolls," an apparent misspelling of "cornrows."
Other schools' handbooks called the braids a "fad" or "inappropriate" options for boys.
City officials told the Daily News that they're speaking with dioceses in New York in hopes of getting the policies changed.
They said the Brooklyn Diocese "requested that all of our academies and schools closely examine their hair policy."
But the New York Archdiocese, which supervises Catholic schools in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, is still backing the braid ban.
"Families attending any Catholic school agree to adhere to the terms of the school's handbook, which will include guidelines on hair, wardrobe and personal conduct," TJ McCormack, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told the Daily News.
Hair-based discrimination against natural styles can target African Americans communities, where such hairstyles have cultural importance and historical significance. Because of this, banning braids can perpetuate harmful and racist stereotypes about hair while also determining what is seen as a "professional" haircut.
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