Students at John Muir High School Stage Brief Walkout Over Durags and Dress Code
Organized by the JMHS Black Student Union, the walkout at the school was planned as a show of unity in response to a failed attempt to achieve “middle ground” on the ban, upheld by the Pasadena Unified School District.
“It’s like Muslim people wearing scarves, durags have a cultural significance for black men,” said Reggie Myles, a college-bound senior at JMHS, who participated in the walkout. “In the now, you have people embracing their culture within their natural hair. In the past men used to perm their hair and now you have black men wearing short hair with waves.”
The walkout stemmed from the students’ desire to wear durags in school. Head coverings are not allowed to be worn in school as per the district-wide dress code that bans the use of hats and head coverings. In addition, the display of certain clothing styles and certain colors could represent gang affiliation and the district, like all school districts, has a duty to protect its students.
“While these are important conversations, the best place for students to discuss concerns is in school, with teachers and staff,” said Principal Lawton Gray. “We are providing classroom and campus dialogue to provide secure forums where all opinions are respected in both words and actions.
“Currently, our school dress code does not allow for durags for head coverings. Our dress code is developed in cooperation with with teachers, students and parents/guardians and are consistent with the law, Board policy, and the values of the John Muir community.”
The walkout was peaceful and the students returned to class within the hour. During the staged walkout the students chanted “I am not dangerous,” according to witnesses. Many had their hands in the air, but it was a peaceful — and relatively short — expression of disagreement with the ban.
The JMHS Black Student Union began planning the walkout following a lunch meeting last Friday with Gray over the matter. Upholding district rules, Gray told the students he believes there is no middle ground on the subject, according to the students.
Historically and anecdotally, durags have come to represent gang activity. The students say that is an old stereotype and it’s time for a change.
The walkout was designed to coincide with fourth period, at which time the kids would be marked absent if not in their respective classrooms.
The students argue that durags, also known as “wave caps” keep the hair flat, allowing men to wear their hair in natural style when removed. And Myles said the durag has also been embraced as part of modern clothing wear.
“Designers like Louis Vuitton and Gucci, they make durags as a fashion statement,” he said. “We disagree with the ‘criminalizing’ of black men, as black men are the ones who wear durags.”
But Michelle Bailey of Pasadena School Board’s third district said students should focus on what’s in their head rather than what’s on their head.
“The conversation has to go deeper,” Bailey said. “When I think about being at school I think about preparing to get an education. I think of it as preparing myself for life outside or after education. When you look at pictures of people who are successful in their business, they’re not wearing durags.”
Bailey also said the conversation about durags is valid but it might have a better platform outside of the nation’s schools.
“Do we want to fight this fight in school or is this something that needs to be discussed on a nationwide or worldwide level?” Bailey asked. “I think the dress the students should be pushing for is something that oozes success, smartness and intelligence.”
Gray said this subject needs further examination.
“Conversations with students will be ongoing,” he said. “Our school welcomes, values and supports all students and their families and remains committed to preparing graduates who are civically engaged, resilient and productive citizens of the 21st century.
“For their own safety and to follow the law, students should limit their activities to times that don’t interfere with their learning, and they should remain in class,” Gray said. The safety and well-being of students is our top priority.”