by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned that a meeting between Central Catholic High School principal Brother Anthony Baginski, other school officials and African American student alumni will take place in March, after a Black student began an online petition to have the school’s hair policy changed.
While Brother Baginski did not confirm an exact date for the meeting, he informed the Courier that the meeting is scheduled for next month.
“The goal of these meetings is simple: to listen,” read a statement from Brother Baginski, sent to members of the local media. “We want to hear their opinions and voices to ensure we are respectful of the cultural concerns this issue has raised.”
Central Catholic sophomore JD Younger, 15, launched an online petition to garner public support, in the hopes that the private high school would alter the hair policy, which, according to the student/parent handbook, states that “hair must be its natural color, clean, neatly combed,” and “hairstyles with designs, patterns, lines, weaves, spikes, braids, locks, twists or ponytails are not permitted.”
Younger said that one of his friends at school was told to change his twists hairstyle or go home. Younger calls the school’s hair policy “outdated” and “racially biased.”
“Central Catholic is a place where kids from all walks of life in the city of Pittsburgh come together and form a brotherhood,” Younger wrote on the change.org petition. “I love my school, but I can’t ignore this issue. The fact that kids have to worry about being able to express themselves while getting an education is a problem. We don’t need regulation, we need education. If more education was done on this issue, we can start to break down the stigma that our hair is unprofessional.”
The change.org petition has nearly 74,000 signatures as of Feb. 3.
“Students come to Central Catholic from more than 50 different school districts, creating a community of individuals of varying backgrounds,” Brother Baginski said in a statement first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette three weeks ago. “We are very proud of this community that we have built. We value each student’s abilities and talents, but our strength is in holding the community above the individual, which is why we enforce uniform dress and grooming standards. While we recognize each student’s individuality and culture, our policies aim to bring all of our students together so they can focus on their education and growth as young men.”
Brother Baginski said there would be no changes to the hair policy for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.
Brian Cook Sr., a Central Catholic alum who will be part of the group of Black alumni meeting with school officials in March, said in a Feb. 3 statement to the Courier that he is “looking forward to these discussions as we take a look at the policies for the 2020-21 school year.”
Generally, certain policies, such as those dealing with hairstyles, that a private school may adopt are agreed upon by the student and parent(s) prior to the student attending the school. But in the case of Younger and across the country, there are some students and families who still denounce the policies.
In August 2018, then-11-year-old Faith Fennedy was asked to leave class at her Catholic school outside New Orleans because administrators said her braids violated school rules. A day later, the school asked another student, Tyrielle Davis, to leave school for the same reason, according to an NBC News report.
The mothers of both Fennedy and Davis sued the Catholic school, claiming that the ban on hair extensions unfairly and disproportionately affected Black students. A judge subsequently blocked the school from enforcing its policy.
A few weeks ago in Texas, a private school told high school senior DeAndre Arnold he couldn’t graduate or be allowed back to school if he didn’t cut his dreadlocks hairstyle. With Arnold and his mother not budging, Arnold was surprised with a $20,000 college scholarship from Shutterfly on the Ellen Degeneres Show by vocalist Alicia Keys.
Reached by phone on Feb. 3, Pittsburgh NAACP President Richard A. Stewart Jr. told the Courier that he supports the upcoming meeting between Central Catholic administration and Black student alumni.
“That’s the way you handle it, individuals doing it the right way,” Stewart said. “Sitting down and having an intelligent discussion.”
(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: CENTRAL CATHOLIC SOPHOMORE JD YOUNGER, who started an online petition to change the school’s hair policy.)