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BREADCRUMB

HAIR AND AN AFFIRMING SCHOOL COMMUNITY

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September 29, 2021

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

New dress-code policies on student hair this year part of Notre Dame's continuing diversity, equity and inclusion initiative.


Shortly after the school year ended last spring, a private school run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., in Rockville, Maryland, faced scrutiny for policies in its student handbook banning braids, cornrows, twists or dreadlocks, rules that parents of Black children felt were discriminatory.

The school's handbook required students to be "properly groomed, neat and clean,” and many parents raised concerns that the rule implied that the so-called "banned hairstyles were not.”

In response, the Washington archdiocese noted the school was reviewing and updating their hair policy and that the current policy “had not been enforced any time recently to allow for cultural expression for young men and women of all nationalities and cultures.”

Administrators at Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy also recently reviewed its dress code and at the beginning of the current school year revised its policy regarding hair. 

"Our administrative team across all three schools took a hard look at our hair policies, as they hadn't been updated in about 20 years," said Kala Parker NDP'00, Notre Dame's director of diversity and inclusion. "As times have changed, the definition of what is considered "well-groomed" or professional-looking hair has broadened, and we wanted to be responsive to that."

She said this year's guidelines differ in that they allow for more flexibility and self-expression in hair styling for both boys and girls.


For Mia Burbank, a school trustee and the parent of three former and current NDPMA students who has worked closely with Parker on the school's diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, dress codes and hair styles are an important part of DEI. 

"In order to create an inclusive environment, it’s key that we understand the importance of hair and the role it plays in numerous cultures," she said. "Hair styles in many cultures represent religious beliefs, family origins, tribes, ranks in society and rites of passage. Hair is a strong cultural tie that can give individuals self-respect, a sense of belonging and pride. In addition, different ethnic groups may have different textures of hair, so hairstyles also can serve as a way to maintain healthy hair." 

Some states already have enacted laws banning hair discrimination in schools based on natural, cultural, racial or other criteria. Michigan has had a number of bills introduced in Lansing to do likewise, including an add-on to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, but they have languished in the legislature. And there is much doubt that any new legislation would apply to private schools anyway, according to Parker, who also works as an attorney.

"It really depends on the wording of the law that passes," she said. "All proposed laws will protect students in public schools, but some won't necessarily protect students in private schools. That was one of the driving factors behind us taking a look at our own school policy now. We want to make sure that, regardless of the wording of any new law, we're proactively doing our best to protect students and address their needs. This is one small step of a larger strategic plan to ensure that all students are treated equitably and develop a sense of belonging within the school community."

Burbank said the student population at Notre Dame has diversified over the years, which is a great thing for the school, she says, but with an understanding of such a change in the student population, NDPMA's policies need to be revisited on a much more frequent basis to ensure those policies remain inclusive of all backgrounds. 

When all is said and done, Parker believes that this attention on hair is reflective of the school mission as well as Notre Dame's DEI initiative that are ensuring that students of all backgrounds feel safe and affirmed on campus. 

"We want to make sure that any rules that apply to all students are equitable and just and that they help them to feel more like themselves," she said. "While we work with God to form Christian, citizens and scholars, we fundamentally know that God created us all in His image. But it doesn't mean we are all the same. Allowing students to express the best version of themselves within the fabric of our school and our mission is what we're called to do as administrators and trustees of this school."

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at www.ndpma.org.