School Tells 16-Year-Old to Change Her Natural-Style Hair

Beth Greenfield
Senior Writer
Nicole Orr, 16, a student in Florida, was asked to change her natural-style hair. (Photo: Courtesy Secily Wilson/Stacy Pierce Photography)

Natural hair, for more and more celebrities, beauty gurus, and other high-profile women of color — including newly crowned Miss USA Kara McCullough — has become a gorgeous badge of honor. But schools across the country, it seems, have remained behind the curve.

So-called grooming policies have banned braids, weaves, dreadlocks, and other styles that target black students — most recently in Massachusetts, where two sisters faced detention for their braids. Now comes another controversy, out of Florida, where 16-year-old high school junior Nicole Orr was recently given detention for her hairstyle, and then told to change it.

“I received a call saying that my daughter needed to get her hair done, and she wears her natural, and I was kind of taken aback by it,” her dad, Eric Orr, told Fox 35.

Orr, who attends Montverde Academy in Lake County, said, “People say they love my hair because it’s so diverse, curly and Afrocentric.”

But Nicole’s mom, Secily Wilson, a journalist, says administrators at the private school, where the teen transferred from public school in January, were not so enamored. When she found out why Nicole was given detention, she tells Yahoo Beauty, she felt it was “ridiculous,” adding, “It was very disturbing to me, because here we are at the end of the year and you’re saying she has to go get her hair done?”

Additionally, she told Fox 35, Nicole “literally felt, ‘Wow, what’s wrong with my hair? The Caucasian girls are able to wear their natural hair straight. Why can’t I wear my natural hair the way that it grows?’”

School administrators referred the family to the school handbook, which included reference to “dread-like” hair being forbidden.

“That could be ambiguous, and it could give you latitude to target a certain person or a certain group, so we felt we needed to address the issue,” Eric said.

He and Wilson (who are former spouses and co-parent Nicole), met with school headmaster Kasey Kesselring, who did not immediately respond to Yahoo Beauty’s request for comment. He did tell Fox 35, “My understanding in talking with the dean of students, I think it was more in line with that neat and organized look that we’re going for. Not so much the issue of dreadlocks per se.”

At the meeting, Kesselring pledged to change the wording of the handbook, and also struck an agreement with the parents. “He asked if Nicole could pull her hair off her forehead when it gets big, and we said OK. … I will compromise, but she will not change her hair.”

Wilson posted on Facebook that she was “extremely happy” with the school’s response. “The policy in the student handbook will be amended and the reference to hairstyles that represent a certain demographic will be removed. Nicole is able to wear her natural hair … with some MINOR adjustments and Mommy is OK with that,” Wilson wrote. “Thank you for hearing and addressing our concerns. Not just for our child, but for every other child who may feel inferior about their hair.”

Finally, she tells Yahoo Beauty, “I needed to be an advocate for my daughter,” as well as for other girls, many of whom come from other continents, including Africa, to board at the school. “What happens when they get asked to change and their parents aren’t here? Who speaks for them?”

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