A school said a “social media frenzy” exploded over a student who was punished for wearing a Nigerian head wrap. But administrators are blaming her mother for “misrepresenting” the facts.
Last week, Geniah Miller, 17, a senior at Camden Academy Charter High School in Camden, N.J., spruced up her uniform with a yellow-and-orange Nigerian head wrap to acknowledge Black History Month and her extended Nigerian family. But she says Principal Dara Ash was displeased. “She looked at me weird and said, ‘What is that on your head?’ in a sarcastic way,” Miller told Philadelphia news station Fox 29.
When the student replied, “It’s my Nigerian head wrap,” Ash allegedly said, “No, not today. You’re not wearing it.”
Geniah’s mother, Chioma Sullivan, said Ash gave an ultimatum: Miller could either remove the scarf, serve an in-house suspension or go home. Sullivan picked up her daughter and then took to Facebook Live to vent. “I am pissed,” Sullivan said, tearfully. “I am very angry that this school will not acknowledge these kids for one month.”
“How is this wrap going to stop her from learning today?” Sullivan asked.
The family also alleged that a student compared black people to monkeys without repercussion and that Miller was punished for dancing during a fire drill. Both said Hispanic culture is more heavily celebrated at the school.
My child was given 3 alternatives for expressing Black History Month- for wearing an African head wrap1. Remove it.2. Sit in in-house suspension.3. Get picked up.😡😡😡😡😡😡😡
Posted by Chioma Sullivan on Monday, February 11, 2019
“I’m angry as hell that my daughter was not allowed to represent Black History Month,” said Sullivan. “I’ll be damned if I make her go to in-house suspension for expressing our black culture.”
Sullivan is involving the school board. “And the lady that tried to make her take it off … is African-American herself. And I don’t get it.”
According to Philadelphia news station WHYY, students can express their individuality on Feb. 27 in a Black History Month school event.
“Our school has many theme days throughout the year to express our students’ spirit or heritage,” Joseph Conway, founder and chief school administrator of the school, told Yahoo Lifestyle. “Some will be occurring during this month in celebration of Black History. Otherwise, we are a strict uniform school just as any other parochial, private or public school that has a uniform dress code that is enforced.”
Conway emailed Yahoo Lifestyle a notice to families who saw Sullivan’s Facebook post: “Individual expression of clothing is not permitted with the exception of adjustments due to the religious beliefs of our students. This is well known throughout the student body and amongst the parents/guardians who entrust their students to us on a daily basis…
“Sadly, there has been a great deal of misinformation on social media in the past days revolving around Camden Academy Charter High School and our Principal, Ms. Ash. The entirety of the matter can be summed up as a violation of the Uniform Policy that was handled appropriately and professionally by Ms. Ash.”
“Instead of working within our school community to address the matter of a uniform violation, the events have been turned into a social media frenzy,” the statement said. “Much of the social media discussion has become a personal attack on Ms. Ash as well as the situation being one of race and Black History Month. This is an unfortunate twisting of the truth and we respectfully ask that the matter be put to rest on social media. This commentary on social media serves as a distraction to the education of our children.”
The school handbook states, “No bandanas, hair-nets, scarves, and/or any excessive, large headwear.”
WHYY reported that on Feb. 12, a student who organized “a mini-protest” in Miller’s name was threatened with suspension, along with kids who wrote about the matter on social media.
Conway said when Hispanic students were once in the minority, they felt underrepresented. “The focus has been on the Nigerian head wrap,” he told WHYY. “But what can we talk about that’s a little bit deeper and longer than just a cultural awareness month? We just need to have better conversations.”
Sullivan did not reply to Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment.