NEW ORLEANS – About 200 people showed up Friday to help celebrate a Louisiana honors student and standout athlete who was blocked from participating in his graduation ceremony last month because of facial hair.
Democratic state Rep. Katrina Jackson of Monroe and the Rev. Roosevelt Wright III of New Orleans sponsored a ceremony for Andrew Jones after news spread that he was prevented from attending his graduation ceremony because of a Tangipahoa Parish Schools System policy about facial hair.
The dress code policy, found in the Student Handbook for grades 4-12, states the following:
"Hairstyles and mustaches shall be clean, neatly groomed and shall not distract from the learning environment nor be a safety factor for any of the school's curricular offerings. Beards will not be allowed. Any hairstyle that distract from the unique environment of a school shall be dealt with by the principal or his/her designee of that school."
The new celebration was held at the African-American Heritage Museum in Hammond. Some students from Jones' class and other graduates from the area are expected to participate.
Superintendent Mark Kolwe defended the decision to prohibit Jones, a 4.0 student and summa cum laude graduate, from walking with his class at Amite High School, saying rules have to be enforced and Jones received enough warning before the ceremony to shave.
A telephone message from The Associated Press left for Kolwe was not immediately returned.
Kolwe in an earlier statement noted that Jones was one of four graduates who arrived at the ceremony unshaven. Three of them shaved in a restroom at the site where the ceremony was held with a razor provided by the school. Jones, who had a professional shave off the sides of his beard and neatly trim his goatee, refused.
"This policy was explained to the student in question on multiple occasions prior to graduation day, and the consequences for failing to comply with that policy were explained to him and his parents on multiple occasions on graduation day. The student's parents tried to convince him to shave, but he ignored their request ... Andrew made that decision for himself by failing to comply with the reasonable requests made by his parents and school officials that he comply with the rules applicable to all other students," Kolwe's statement said.
Amite High School Principal Renee Carpenter declined to discuss the situation when contacted by The Associated Press.
Jones and his family have told other media outlets that the rule was not enforced throughout the school year and they know of students with facial hair at other schools in the district who were able to participate in their graduation ceremonies.
They refused comment when contacted by The Associated Press, citing a pending lawsuit.
"He was unfairly excluded from the most important day of his life," Jackson and Wright said in a statement. "A beard should NEVER upstage academic excellence."
Jackson said when she initially heard about Jones' situation, she believed he should have submitted and shaved because he didn't follow the rules. But after hearing that he was allowed to participate in other school activities with facial hair, she believes the prohibition was unfairly enforced on what is generally considered a student's biggest day.
"It's wrong to enforce that policy on a young man who had worked so hard to achieve his goals," Jackson said. "Students are responsible for following rules, but we as adults are responsible for enforcing them. As adults, we can't arbitrarily enforce the rules. This was a rule that was never enforced until graduation."
"Anytime a young man such as Andrew has shown academic excellence, it's unfair to not reward him," Wright said. "His academic achievements are incredible."