High School Valedictorian Barred From Graduation For Facial Hair Finds Ally In NAACP

A high school valedictorian was barred from his graduation ceremony in Louisiana last week. The reason? The honor student was denied the opportunity to participate in the graduation events because he refused to shave his goatee, reports the Toronto Sun. Monday, a rally was held in support of Andrew Jones, a 4.0 student at Amite High east of Baton Rouge. In addition, a local chapter of the NAACP is coming to the defense of the student barred from his own graduation.

Patricia Morris, president of the Tangipahoa chapter of the NAACP, is calling for the school superintendent and three board members to resign their positions because Jones was barred from the graduation ceremony. Morris demanded that Superintendent Mark Kolwe and his board members Brett Duncan, Walter Daniels, and Rose Dominguez step down over their treatment of the class valedictorian.

Jones, the student barred from graduation, agrees with the NAACP president and supports her decision to demand the resignations. He called the school board’s policy to ban beards “ridiculous,” and added that he’d worn his goatee all year while he worked diligently at his academics to achieve his valedictorian status. Then, the morning of the graduation ceremony, Jones said that school administrators told him that he had to shave.

Shave or be barred from graduation, despite his success as a student and the hard work he’d expended to become class valedictorian.

According to the honor student barred from his graduation, he refused to shave. He said that he feels the beard is part of his identity.

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Superintendent Mark Kolwe, who barred Jones from the graduation, has a different version of events. He says that Jones and other students were given copies of requirements to participate in the graduation ceremony weeks before graduation. Indeed, says Kolwe, students received instructions back on April 29, almost three weeks prior to graduation day on May 18.

“That document clearly stated that all students were to be clean shaven for the graduation ceremony.”

Superintendent Kolwe said that Jones got another reminder that he had to shave or be barred from graduation on May 9. According to Kolwe, that time, Jones’ mom and aunt were listening to the instructions as they were given over speakerphone.

On the day of the graduation, other students complied with the “no facial hair policy,” including three who showed up to graduation with facial hair. Those three students shaved their faces at the event with razors and shaving cream provided by the school district. Only Jones, class valedictorian, refused to fully shave. Reportedly, he shaved the facial hair from his cheeks but refused to get rid of his mustache and goatee.

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NAACP chapter president Morris says that the rule wasn’t applied fairly or equitably. She said that at other schools in the parish school district, students were not barred from graduation because they refused to shave. According to Morris’ contention, students at Hammond Magnet High School and Ponchatoula High School were allowed to participate fully in their schools’ graduation events and were not barred from graduation when they sported full beards.

Morris further contends that valedictorian Jones being barred from graduation for refusing to shave violates his First Amendment rights.

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Morris isn’t the only one coming to Andrew Jones’ defense. His aunt, Sabrina Davis, says that the decision to bar the honor student from the graduation ceremony was not right. She called the policy against facial hair “unfair,” and says that it was also “applied unfairly” in Andrew’s case.

Social media also erupted with words of support for Andrew Jones, as well as some condemnation for the 4.0 student barred from graduation.

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Despite being barred from his hard-earned graduation, JET reports that Andrew Jones has a bright future ahead of him. He has been awarded a scholarship to Southeastern Louisiana University, where he can presumably adorn his face with as much or as little hair as he chooses.

What do you think? Is it appropriate to bar an honor student from graduation over facial hair? Should Jones have simply complied? Are school dress codes antiquated and/or a violation of students’ First Amendment rights? Do you think that the NAACP will be successful in its calls for the resignation of the superintendent and board members who barred Andrew Jones from graduation?

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