Texas mom says daughter's high school is refusing to let her graduate over braids

Tim Stelloh

The mother of a Texas teenager said Tuesday that her daughter’s high school is refusing to let her graduate this week unless she removes her braids or covers them.

Kieana Hooper said the principal of Gladewater High School told her Monday that her daughter, 18-year-old Kienjanae, or KJ, would not be able to participate in a graduation ceremony Friday or receive her diploma.

KJ was awarded a certificate achievement from the National Honor Society and was given college scholarships from the Ronald McDonald House Charities and other local organizations, according to documents provided to NBC News.

KJ Hooper, whose mother said her high school in Texas is refusing to let her graduate unless she changes her hair. (Kieana Hooper)

She earned straight As last year and hoped to become a nurse, Hooper said, though she worried that future was now in jeopardy.

“You’re basing a graduation and diploma on hair,” said Hooper, 44. “Which is totally ridiculous with what’s going on in this world.”

In a letter to Hooper’s lawyer, an attorney for the school disputed Hooper’s characterization of the call, saying the principal, Cathy Bedair, had only made the comments because she noticed KJ’s hair was “no longer a natural color.”

“Accordingly, Principal Bedair telephoned your client and told her that the color of Kienjanae’s hair would need to be changed so it met dress code requirements,” the letter said, adding: “Gladewater ISD does not understand how the confusion arose.”

KJ’s hair is burgundy and black, her mother said. And she said Bedair was clear during the Monday morning call that her daughter would need to remove her braids to graduate.

“I said, ‘I’m totally blown away when you’ve never said anything about this last year or this year,’” Hooper said. “We’ve got four days before graduation.’”

The school, which is located between Dallas and Shreveport, Louisiana, is set to hold a graduation ceremony Friday at the high school football field, she said.

Hooper added that when she asked Bedair why the removal was necessary, “she wouldn’t give me an answer.”

In the letter, the school attorney said that Bedair ultimately decided that the color of KJ’s hair “was close enough” to a natural color and that she’d be allowed to graduate, which she told Hooper in a second phone call.

In an email to NBC News, Gladewater Independent School District Superintendent Sedric Clark said he believed the matter had been resolved.

But Hooper disputed that. In the second call, she said Bedair insisted that KJ cover her hair with a cap during the ceremony. But she’s not planning to remove her braids or their color, Hooper said. Nor will she cover them, she said.

And as far as Hooper knows, KJ is still not allowed to graduate.