In August 2017 one little boy from Texas had his school year cut short almost as soon as it had begun. What happened? Well, the four-year-old turned up ready for pre-K only to be told that he wasn’t welcome. And the reason why left his mom raging.
Jabez Oates is the youngster at the center of this controversy. And like plenty of other kids his age, he was very excited to start school. So in anticipation, his mom, 25-year-old Jessica Oates, had been out to buy everything her son would need for class.
In particular, she purchased him a new backpack and clothes so that Jabez would be ready for the thrilling next chapter in his life. Jessica also told The Huffington Post that they didn’t know that many people in the area, so school was going to be a great opportunity for Jabez to make new friends.
“I got him so excited to go to school for his first day,” Jessica said to the website in August 2017. “I thought I had all my ducks in a row.” Just two days into Jabez’s school term, however, it became apparent that there was one thing that she hadn’t considered. And it would go on to cause quite the furor.
Specifically, there was something about Jabez’s appearance that the school claimed contravened the dress code. In the end, then, Jabez only went to pre-K for a couple of days. Then Jessica was told that her son would not be allowed back unless she took drastic action.
And the whole debacle was due to the four-year-old’s hair: Jabez had long locks that hadn’t been cut since birth. Unfortunately, the ironically named Barbers Hill Independent School District wasn’t having any of it – even though there was a cultural reason for his hairstyle.
“My family is American Indian,” Jessica explained to the New York Post in August 2017. “We are Cocopah Indian and that was the documentation that I was going to provide for the reason for my son’s long hair.” But the school’s principal told her that the documentation wasn’t sufficient.
Jessica then tried to adhere to the dress code by putting her son’s hair in a bun. But this still wasn’t acceptable in the eyes of the school staff. In fact, the hair tie that Jessica used to restrain her son’s locks was deemed an “inappropriate hair accessory,” according to the New York Post.
“Apparently, the school board is a stickler for rules and can’t think of any religions or cultures that would require long hair,” the New York Post quoted Jessica as remarking. At that point, it was clear that the school wasn’t prepared to budge. But Jessica wasn’t going to admit defeat, either.
For the Oates family, having long hair is culturally a “signal of strength,” according to Jessica. And besides, she didn’t want to chop off all of her son’s hair, especially when he was so fond of it. “He doesn’t want to cut his hair. It’s just a part of who he is,” she explained to The Huffington Post.
But the repercussions of the school board’s decision appear to be more serious than Jessica initially realized. Indeed, it seems as though being banned from school has affected Jabez negatively. “At first, I didn’t believe it impacted him as much as it did. He’s a smart, very observant little boy. Since Monday, he has been very angry,” his mom told Today in August 2017.
And Jessica was sure that it was all to do with being sent home from school because of his long hair. Ever since it happened, in fact, Jabez has been “confused as to why he can’t go to school anymore,” as his mom told the New York Post.
As a result, Jessica decided to do something about it. Rather than sitting back and accepting the status quo, she started an online petition on Change.org in August 2017. The main intention of the petition is to get her son’s school to rethink a dress code that, in Jessica’s eyes, is discriminatory.
On the petition page, then, Jessica wrote a message urging people to stand with her. She explained that she had tried to meet the school halfway by tying up her son’s hair, but he was sent home nonetheless. “It’s a sexist rule that should not be implemented for boys if it’s not implemented for girls,” she wrote.
And so far, the petition has reached over 11,000 signatures, with an overall target of 15,000. Plenty of people have commented on the page, too. “It’s stupid to deny a child an education just because they have long hair. If girls can have short haircuts, then why can’t boys have long hair?” one person wrote.
But not everyone has shown support for Jessica’s endeavor. The Today article on Jessica and Jabez’s story, for example, tells of the “vitriolic responses” that the mom received from some parents in the area. Shockingly, Jessica has also revealed that she and her son were even “told to jump off a cliff.”
“It has been vile. A lot of people have told me to move and get out of here… I can’t home school because I work full time, and I’m trying to find a second job. I’m a single mom, and so home-schooling really just isn’t an option,” Oates explained to the New York Post.
Ideally, she would like to get Jabez back into school, long hair intact. But having heard the community’s cruel words, she fears that it may not be the best option for her son anymore. In particular, she’s concerned that Jabez will be bullied if he goes back to the same school.
“Even if I win, and Jabez gets to go to [pre-K], do I send him to a school where people are going to potentially emotionally torment him?” she said to Today. In the meantime, the feisty mom has been looking into day care. And during the process, she has continued to lament that the public school system “is absolutely failing” her son.
The outcome of the petition is yet to be decided. But there’s no doubt that Jessica won’t go down without a fight. However, she does accept that her son might choose to change his hairstyle when he’s older. “I will cut his hair the day he asks me to get his hair cut,” she said to The Huffington Post. For now, though, it’s going nowhere.