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Report Finds Bias At Florida Private Schools That Accept Vouchers

According to a Huffington Post report, nearly 20 percent of participating Hope Scholarship schools have policies regarding a student’s hairstyle.";

A recent story on the Huffington Post website revealed that some Florida private schools have discriminatory policies despite accepting students with publically-funded school vouchers.

When reporter Rebecca Klein was writing a piece about Florida’s new Hope Scholarship, she found that a percentage of private schools that participate in the scholarship program have strict hair policies that could be seen as having racial undertones.

“At least 20 percent of the schools had specific rules regarding whether or not students were allowed to sport dreadlocks, afros, braids, things that African-American children are more likely to wear,” she said. “So many people feel like there are distinct racial undertones in these policies.”

The story included an embedded video that has since gone viral of a young boy being turned away from a school in Apopka because he sported dreadlocks.

“Clinton Stanley Jr. is a 6-year old who was very excited to start his first day of school at a private school called A Book’s Christian Academy,” said Klein. “He showed up the first day with his father and he was told that he wasn't allowed to come into the school. He would not be allowed to attend classes that day because he wears dreadlocks. Apparently the school outlines this in its handbook, but Clinton Stanley Jr.'s father said he had never seen this handbook. But even if he had he wasn't going to tell his son that for whatever reason, the hairstyle of his son's choice was unacceptable.”

Klein also reported that a number of schools participating in the Hope Scholarship program have policies that exclude LGBTQ students.

“I found that of the schools that had signed up for the program in August, around 10 percent of them had policies that specifically stated in their handbook that you would not be allowed to attend the school if you were an LGBTQ student.”

Klein said she reached out to the Florida Department of Education for comment.

“The Florida Department of Education stands by the idea that this program is inclusive, that it's designed to protect students who have had difficulty in public schools because of bullying,” she said. “And they also note that this program is voluntary. You don't have to participate in it if you don't want. So if a student feels uncomfortable they can go somewhere else.”

After Klein’s story was published, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund reached out to the Department of Education.

“The NAACP wrote a letter to the Florida Department of Education talking about how even if schools do not have explicit racism in their policies saying that they will not accept African-American students, these hair policies exercises more subtle form of racism and that they disproportionately impact African-American students,” said Klein. “They asked that the Florida Department of Education speak with schools to eliminate these policies.”

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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