A Rastafarian student prevented from attending a Plaquemines Parish high school because of his long dreadlocks will be allowed to return to class, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana said Tuesday.
The ACLU had lodged a complaint with the school district on Monday, alleging that a school dress code that prohibited the student from wearing his hair long violated his freedoms of religion and expression.
Some Rastafarians believe their religion requires them to wear their hair in dreadlocks and allow it to grow long.
ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman said Tuesday that the situation “should never have arisen in the first place.”
“It’s critical that the School Board and superintendent recognize his religious rights and balance it with his need to continue his education,” Esman said. “They need to respect the law of the land, and the law of the land requires the protection of people’s religious beliefs.”
After receiving the letter from the ACLU, which demanded a hearing on the matter, South Plaquemines High School allowed the student to return to class “pending a final resolution to his case,” according to a news release from the ACLU.
The group did not identify the student, who missed 10 days of school in what the organization characterized as essentially an “indefinite suspension.”
The ACLU is continuing to negotiate with the school over a list of requests contained in the group’s initial letter. Those include exempting the student from policies restricting the length of his hair, reversing his suspension and any disciplinary action taken against him, and giving him the ability to make up the work he missed. The ACLU also asked that none of the days he missed be counted against him.
School officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The student had been sent home on the second day of school because administrators said his hair, which extended beyond the bottom of his shirt collar, violated a school policy that prohibits male students from allowing their hair to grow below the top of their shirt collar. He was told he could not return to classes until he cut his hair.
The ACLU argued that preventing the student from attending classes violated both constitutional and statutory rights protecting religious liberty. The organization cited a case in which the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a native American student — whose religion also required he wear his hair long — could not be made to cut or hide his hair.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.