Teenager's Hair Color Causes Sussex Academy Dress Code Debate - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Teenager's Hair Color Causes Sussex Academy Dress Code Debate

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GEORGETOWN, Del. - A Selbyville mother says her daughter's rights were infringed upon when Sussex Academy leadership told her to dye her bright red hair.

Sussex Academy's handbook states that "Hair color that does not occur naturally is unacceptable (e.g. fuchsia, green, purple, etc.)." Keirstyn Reed recently dyed her hair bright red, and says on the first day of school, Sussex Academy Director Dr. Patricia Oliphant pulled her aside in the hallway.

"She said it's not a natural hair color. I said we had checked with my hair dresser," Reed explains. "She said 'Your hairdresser is wrong and you need to fix it."

Reed's mother Stephanie Lindquist said she spoke with Oliphant on the phone, who said they would be happy to work with Reed and Lindquist to find an acceptable shade of red. Lindquist says she was told Reed could finish the school day, but must dye it before returning to school. Lindquist says that's not going to happen.

"I don't believe that to be working with somebody," Lindquist says. "You're just pretty much saying 'We don't like it. You have to change it or she's out of our school.'" 

"I just believe it is unfair treatment of my child because this is a good school and she was getting a good education there," Lindquist continues. "Now she's no longer allowed to get that good education because of the color of her hair. That to me is a violation of our constitutional rights."

Oliphant tells WBOC that Sussex Academy--a charter school--has a dress code just like any other public or private school does. She says since they are a charter school, they are a school of choice, and therefore parents who choose to send their children there choose to follow those rules.

"What I saw yesterday was not a naturally occurring red hair. I have two other school administrators who agree with me. I have five other teachers who agree with me," she says. "I'm not trying to target a specific child in being unfair. What I am trying to do is preserve the culture of equity in this school, a culture of calmness in the school and a culture that we're in kind of a professional office type environment."

Oliphant says the dress code is also a service for the students.

"One of the reasons we have uniforms here is we think it creates a more level playing field for kids," she says. "That kids--no matter where they come from, no matter what home they come out of--that everyone is treated the same."

Lindquist says she refuses to make her daughter dye her hair, and unless the school changes their mind, her daughter is not returning to Sussex Academy.

"I refuse to budge because I'm not going to tell her to change what she wants to do," she says. "Because kids have low self esteem as it is." 

Reed says she doesn't want to go back regardless because it would be embarrassing after all the attention. She and her mother hope that the school makes their dress code more specific to avoid future confusion for other students. They still believe they were in compliance as red is a natural color.  Lindquist says she's filed a complaint with the Delaware chapter of the ACLU and Reed will start school in the Indian River School District next week.  


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