ORLANDO, Fla. – A Central Florida teen told Local 6 on Monday she faced expulsion because administrators at her private school wanted her to cut and shape her hair. But a day later, administrators appeared to have changed their mind, saying she will not be expelled.
Vanessa VanDyke said she was given one week to decide to whether cut her hair or leave Faith Christian Academy in Orlando, a school she's been going to since the third grade.
But for now, she and her mother do not plan to change her hair because it is part of the 12-year-old's identity. But her natural hair style comes with a cost.
"It says that I'm unique," said VanDyke. "First of all, it's puffy and I like it that way. I know people will tease me about it because it's not straight. I don't fit in."
VanDyke said that first the teasing from other students, but now, school leaders seem to be singling her out for her appearance.
Faith Christian Academy has a dress code and rules against how students can wear their hair. The student handbook reads: "Hair must be a natural color and must not be a distraction," and goes on to state examples that include, but are not limited to, mohawks, shaved designs and rat tails.
"A distraction to one person is not a distraction to another," said VanDyke's mother, Sabrina Kent. "You can have a kid come in with pimples on his face. Are you going to call that a distraction?"
VanDyke said she's had her large, natural hair all year long, but it only became an issue after the family complained about students teasing her about her hair.
"There have been bullies in the school," said Kent. "There have been people teasing her about her hair, and it seems to me that they're blaming her."
"I'm depressed about leaving my friends and people that I've known for a while, but I'd rather have that than the principals and administrators picking on me and saying that I should change my hair," said VanDyke.
"I'm going to fight for my daughter," Kent said. "If she wants her hair like that, she will keep her hair like that. There are people out there who may think that natural hair is not appropriate. She is beautiful the way she is."
School administrators told Local 6 in a statement on Tuesday, "we're not asking her to put products in her hair or cut her hair. We're asking her to style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook."
Vanessa and her mother will be discussing her hairstyle over Thanksgiving as school is in recess until Monday.