TSR Positive Images: Kindness and understanding goes a long way, especially when we’re dealing with children. In a country where Black students are disproportionately disciplined and criminalized for their Black features, an Indiana principal saw an opportunity to help his student instead of penalize him.
It all started when middle schooler Anthony Moore was sent to Jason Smith’s office at Stonybrook Intermediate and Middle School in Indianapolis for wearing a hat, which goes against the school’s dress code. “I sat across from him and asked, ‘What’s wrong? Why are you being defiant, why are you refusing to take your hat off? It’s a pretty simple request,’” Smith told CNN. “And he explained that his parents took him to get a haircut and he didn’t like the results.”
Principal Smith said even though he and a school dean thought Anthony’s hair looked fine, he understood that social acceptance is more important than adult acceptance to a boy his age. “I told him, ‘Look, I’ve been cutting hair since I was your age,’ and I showed him pictures of my son’s haircuts that I did and some of me cutting hair in college. And I said, ‘If I run home and get my clippers and fix your line, will you go back to class?’” Smith said. “He hesitated but then he said yes.”
From there, Smith drove back home in the snow to get his clippers and brought them to his office to line Anthony’s head up while his parents were called for consent to touch up his hair.
Anthony’s mother, Tawanda Johnson, said she thought the principal’s gesture was wonderful.
“He (Smith) handled it very well to keep him from getting in trouble at school,” Johnson said. “I’m just glad that he was able to handle that without … being put in in-school suspension.”
Smith noted how important hair is for Black students.
“He didn’t say straight out, but I feel like he didn’t want to be laughed at,” Smith said. “The barbershop and hair cuts as Black males is very important in the community and looking your best and being sharp — it’s just a cultural aspect.”
He continued, “Just from my being a Black male myself and coming through that culture and you know, I really think girls matter at that age, which (means) appearance then could matter. He was scared he was going to be laughed at and we were pretty sure no one would notice, but he was looking through his lens,” Smith said.
Smith said he made sure to check on Anthony throughout the day, and found that he was learning and didn’t have his hat on after the touch-up.
“All behavior is communication and when a student is struggling, we need to ask ourselves what happened to this child instead of what’s wrong with the child,” Smith said. “What need is the child trying to get met and really, the future of urban education rests on that question.”
Smith added that the consequence for not abiding by the dress code ordinarily would have been in-school suspension or being picked up by a parent, but Smith said that “would have prevented him from being in front of a classroom teacher and giving him the education he deserves, so it really worked out well.”
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