AMITE, La. — A Louisiana chapter of the NAACP wants a school superintendent and three school board members to resign after a high school valedictorian was blocked from participating in graduation for refusing to shave his beard.
At a Monday rally in support of Andrew Jones, the Tangipahoa chapter’s president, Patricia Morris, said Superintendent Mark Kolwe and board members Walter Daniels, Brett Duncan and Rose Dominguez should step down.
Jones, a 4.0 student at Amite High School, about 50 miles east of Baton Rouge, told The Advocate (http://bit.ly/20swC2E ) he supports Morris’ call and believes the district’s policy banning beards is “ridiculous.” He said he had been allowed to wear facial hair all year, with no warning until the morning of graduation practice when he was told to shave or be barred from the ceremony.
He said he refused to shave because he felt the beard was a part of his identity.
Kolwe, in a statement, said Jones and other students were given a copy of all requirements for participation in the ceremony on April 29, nearly three weeks before the May 18 graduation.
“That document clearly stated that all students were to be clean shaven for the graduation ceremony,” Kolwe said.
Jones was again reminded on May 9, with his mother and aunt listening via speakerphone, Kolwe said.
Other students with facial hair shaved before the ceremony, including three who came to the event unshorn and removed their beards in the assembly centre with razors and shaving cream provided by district officials, Kolwe said.
Jones was the only one who refused to comply, the superintendent said.
But Morris contends that other students in the parish school district were allowed to participate in their graduation ceremonies wearing full beards, including students at Hammond Magnet High School and Ponchatoula High School.
Morris said Jones’ right to wear a beard should be protected under the First Amendment’s freedom of expression clause.
Jones’ aunt, Sabrina Davis, said the policy is both inherently unfair and was applied unfairly in her nephew’s case.