Christ the King

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Video of a young black girl walking dejectedly out of a Catholic school in Terrytown in tears after being told her hair extensions violated school policy has set off a social media firestorm — with many commenters expressing puzzlement or outrage.

Some accused Christ the King Middle School of racism, including social activist Shaun King on Twitter and rapper T.I. on Instagram. Locally, Erika McConduit, president and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana, told WWL-TV that she was "shocked" and "very disappointed."

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The regional Anti-Defamation League joined the Urban League of Louisiana in issuing a joint statement late Tuesday decrying the school’s “racially insensitive grooming policy.”

“ADL and the Urban League are deeply troubled by the policy in question as well as the manner in which the school is disciplining students of color under this policy,” the statement said. “The policy shows racial insensitivity and bias by the administration to students and their families.”

Sixth-grader Faith Fennidy’s brother Steven posted a Facebook video showing her leaving school with relatives. Her braids are pulled back and hang slightly below the neckline.

Fennidy’s post says there are practical reasons his sister wears hair extensions.

“Extensions make the hair easier to maintain. It allows my sister to have access to the swimming pool without having to get her hair re-done every night,” his post said.

He said the school wouldn’t compromise, and Fennidy's family told WWL-TV they are considering a discrimination lawsuit. They also told the station that Faith attended a parent-teacher meet meet-and and-greet before classes started, and school administrators did not tell them then that their daughter’s hair style broke any rules.

Administrators say the policy was made clear before school started.

“This policy was communicated to all parents during the summer and again before the first day of school,” Archdiocese of New Orleans Schools Superintendent RaeNell Houston said in a statement. “Furthermore, the school leadership worked with families as needed to ensure compliance.”

Houston said the family chose to withdraw the girl from school rather than comply. But school administrators went on to say they are committed to being a welcoming school that celebrates diversity.

The video posted by her brother shows Faith Fennidy appearing to fight back tears while adults around her can be heard in a brief, contentious discussion. “I don’t want this to happen,” a woman is heard saying.

A man who refers to Faith as his daughter curtly replies, “Yes, you do.” Faith slips a pink backpack emblazoned with images of fern leaves and wild animals onto one shoulder and walks out of the building.

The statement from the ADL and the Urban League called on the school to revise its policy, withdraw current disciplinary action issued under it and apologize to the affected students. “It should also implement reasonable grooming standards that foster learning while respecting diversity, as well as institute cultural competence and anti-discrimination training for all staff," the groups said.

"It is not embracing diversity when you have a policy that you know is inherently biased and would disproportionately impact just some of your students," McConduit said. "We believe that the young lady, all disciplinary action should be withdrawn and that the young lady and her family and anyone else involved, should receive an apology."

Pauline Hardin, a legal analyst for WWL-TV, said the school could find itself in some legal jeopardy in a lawsuit.

"It's a private school,” Hardin told the station. “And so they do have a right to make whatever rules they wish to apply to their school. But those rules cannot be discriminatory on the basis of race or nationality or anything else that's prohibited."

Hardin says the family and their attorney will likely have to prove that their daughter was specifically targeted.

"If they make a showing of that, then the school's going to have to come back and give some non-discriminatory reason why this child couldn't wear that hairdo," Hardin told WWL.

Care2, a website that organizes social advocacy petitions, announced Wednesday that more than 2,000 people had signed a petition asking the school to change its policy.

Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter, @GordonRussell1.