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White Utah teen with dreadlocks claims discrimination over hairstyle

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Posted at 6:47 PM, Sep 21, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-22 11:12:57-04

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah - A mother in Pleasant Grove is speaking out after her daughter was reprimanded for wearing dreadlocks to the charter school she attends.

The Lincoln Academy has strict policies and guidelines for their dress code. But her mother says she wears them for religious reasons.

"I guess it's just like representing like me turning over a new leaf and like trying to find myself," said eighth-grader Caycee Cunningham about her dreadlocks.

After studying abroad in Guatemala, Cunningham at Lincoln Academy grew dreadlocks as part what she calls a spiritual journey in her Hindu beliefs.

"I think they could be a little more accepting of it, and I think they should, because we do live in America and it does kind of boggles my mind a little bit," the teen said.

Caycee's mother Tonya Judd said she received a phone call from the school principal at Lincoln Academy saying Caycee's dreadlocks were against the school dress code and she was asked to remove them.

Judd believes if students of other ethnicities are allowed to wear them, her daughter should be able to wear them as well.

"My daughter is white and there happens to be other kids in the school who happen to be other race and ethnicity and they have hair that can't be combed, and there's never been an issue regarding that before," Judd said.

While Lincoln Academy's dress code does not specifically ban dreadlocks, there are policies against unnatural hair colors and distracting haircuts that Principal Jake Hunt says they hold every student at the school to.

"Our dress code says that our students' hair must have a neat, combed appearance, be appropriate for school, and not be distracting in the classroom, which is pretty similar to what many schools in our area have," he said.

While Judd says she respects the charter school's dress code, she doesn't believe her daughter's hair is a distraction and says she shouldn't be discriminated against.

"Not only have they been racially profiling my daughter because she happens to be a while girl with dreadlocks, but it's also taking away the rights of my daughter's religious beliefs and her spiritual journey," Judd said.

While Hunt said Caycee is not facing repercussions for not changing her hair, he says he wants to have a conversation with her mother to see if they can reach a compromise.

"We would be happy to come to a common solution with parents if they have concerns," he said. "It's just a matter of having that conversation with us and trying to go through that process."

Caycee and her mom say they refuse to remove the dreadlocks and will continue to stand their ground that Caycee's hair is a hairstyle and is not a distraction to other students at the school.

Caycee says she is prepared to transfer schools if she needs to.