Rastafarian student reportedly suspended for dreadlocks

A Louisiana school district’s dress code is violating a student’s constitutional rights, according to a statement by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU sent a letter to the Plaquemines Parish School Board and to South Plaquemines High School this week about the decision to suspend a student for sporting dreadlocks. The student belongs to the Rastafarian religion, which says that men should refrain from cutting their hair and grow it in long dreadlocks, a part of the tradition as well.

The South Plaquemines High School dress code states: “Boys’ hair may not extend lower than the top of a school shirt collar” or be “pinned up, pulled back, or put in a pony tail.” As a result, the student was told that he could not return to school “as long has his hair remains in dreadlocks,” even though administrators were keenly aware of his religious practices.

“For the record, this particular student, I have him graduating early, we’re trying to help him get out of school early,” said John Barthelemy, the principal of the school told the Huffington Post. “The days out of school were not counting against him for suspension or anything on his record, we want to get him back on track.”

The student’s mother explained their religious practices to the district board of education with a letter from their church. She was told this was not enough to get the student out of the dress code, according to the ACLU. The ACLU letter also states that the district hair policy violates the student’s constitutional rights of religious freedom, and that “the wearing of dreadlocks for John Doe is akin to the wearing of a religious icon by another student.”

“In discriminating against John Doe’s religious beliefs, the school is expressing a preference for certain religions, which is unacceptable.The school’s actions of prohibiting John Doe from attending school until he cuts his hair violates the Louisiana and United States Constitutions, in addition to Louisiana’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act,” the letter states.

The student attended South Plaquemines High School last year, but cut his hair in accordance with the dress code policy, Barthelemy had stated. Marjorie Esman, executive director of ACLU in Louisiana, said to the Louisiana Radio Network that the family was not aware of his rights at the time to keep his hair in dreadlocks.