John Muir High School Students Plan Morning Walkout in Response to 'Durag' Ban

Published : Wednesday, February 20, 2019 | 7:46 AM

Students at John Muir High School are planning a walkout today at 9:27 a.m. over what they say is an unfair and outdated ban on wearing headscarves known as “durags” in school.

Organizers of the Black Student Union want to make a statement that to ban wearing “durags” is an affront to the civil liberties of students, who are trying to express their creativity and cultural identity while also keeping their hair in place.

“Durags” are also sometimes referred to as “wave caps” because they hold in place and help keep tight the desirable wave-style look that’s popular for black men.

“We’re a new generation and want to get rid of that ban because we don’t see the durag as a threat, it’s not part of gang attire,” said Emily Cattouse, a senior and college-bound art major who is the secretary for the JMHS Black Student Union.

Cattouse said the students held a meeting with Principal Lawton Gray at lunch last Friday but left without even a hint of a compromise.

“We, the JMHS Black Student Union, have already tried to reason with the school’s principal, Dr. Lawton Gray, about how we feel about the ban and how we can take steps forward by getting rid of a ban based on stereotypes,” Cattouse said. “It was unsuccessful and he has stated ‘I see no middle ground between us, the ban is not going anywhere.’”

Pasadena Unified School District has a dress code, implemented in 1995 and updated in 2003, 2015 and again in 2016. District spokesperson Hilda Ramirez Horvath confirmed that the Principal and students did meet over the issue.

Principal Gray explained further.

“There are certain parts of the dress code, like when I first came in spaghetti straps, we took that off the dress code,” Gray said. “There are a number of things. For head covering inside the school, students can wear hats, but wearing wave caps could be a look in terms of gang affiliation. The kids in gangs wear hats also, but we’re looking at it as from the standpoint of it’s not something we want the kids to wear during the school day.”

The durag has become a fashion statement in the community, Cattouse said. The durag is a cultural symbol through which the user can express themselves “through vibrant colors and outer fabric material.” She believes the school district’s ban on durags exist because the durags are seen as gang member memorabilia.

“This ban targets black male students at school because they are the only group of students that wears these,” she said.

The group is staging the walkout with the intent to impact the school’s funding. The walkout is planned for 9:27 a.m. because that’s the start of period four so every student who participates in the walkout will receive an absence.

“We are working hard to make sure the whole school, minus the administration is aware of the walkout,” Cattouse said. “This was organized in five days because of the route the principal took during an open meeting about the durag ban.”

Cattouse said she and the other students were disappointed at the result of the meeting with the principal.

“The meeting lasted during lunch and our agenda was to find a compromise between the district and students,” she said. “He said ‘I see no middle ground.’ Our walkout is a response that statement.”

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