Teacher’s ban on ‘large Afros,’ other ‘outlandish’ hair at concert sparks protests

A suburban Cincinnati middle school teacher sparked protests with his “Concert Hair Styles” rules for the winter concert. “Mohawks, large Afros or any other outlandish hairstyle is not acceptable,” the rules said. (Facebook, Brian Keith)
A suburban Cincinnati middle school teacher sparked protests with his “Concert Hair Styles” rules for the winter concert. “Mohawks, large Afros or any other outlandish hairstyle is not acceptable,” the rules said. (Facebook, Brian Keith) Facebook/Brian Keith

An Ohio school district apologized to families after one of its middle school teachers laid down controversial rules about the hairstyles his students could wear to the winter concert.

The teacher, who is black, said “large Afros” were unacceptable and male students with dreadlocks or braids should wear them in “conservative” ponytails.

Why not just tell the black kids not to come,” Brian Keith, who lives in Cincinnati, wrote when he posted a copy of the teacher’s rules on Facebook.

The letter from teacher Steven Reeves, vocal music teacher at Pleasant Run Middle School in suburban Cincinnati, lit a firestorm over the weekend on social media, WLWT in Cincinnati reported.

“Men should receive the appropriate barber attention the evening before the concert,” the letter said. “Mohawks, ‘barber designs’ and Large Afros are not acceptable.

“Men with long hair (i.e. Dred-Locks or Braids) should devote the necessary attention to make sure that hair is neat and pulled behind the neck in a conservative ponytail style.”

He “strongly encouraged” female students to “visit the cosmetologist the evening before the concert. Hair must be styled in a manner that will not draw any specific attention to the individual performer on stage. Therefore, bright colors such as Pink or Red are not permissible.”

The rule about the Mohawks and “large Afros” applied to the girls, too.

Reeves wrote that students who didn’t comply with the hair rules would be sent home from the concert “and subsequently forfeit their grade” for the event.

The letter made the rounds on Facebook, where some people said the rules “targeted black students and were racist. Many called for Reeves to be fired,” the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote.

Northwest Local School District Superintendent Todd Bowling told the newspaper the district didn’t approve the rules. Reeves is in his first year of teaching in the district and previously taught in public schools in Dayton, Ohio, and New Jersey, the Enquirer reported.

Not everyone, though, found the rules offensive.

“If you do ballet — there is required dress and hair styles,” Stephanie Short Thomas wrote on Brian Keith’s Facebook post. “In a performance the goal is to limit distraction-the letter didn’t say no afro just groomed afro-and not to big would be (angry) if YOUR child was behind the HAIR...just like the hat lady in church....just too much....and ALL ethnic groups where Mohawks- just be neat!!”

She argued that the “bigger picture is teaching kids what’s proper in most concert situations they’ll encounter as they get older. If they pursue music in any form, orchestra, choirs, madrigals, etc., then this type of instruction is common.”

Pleasant Run mom DeAnna Austin, who met Reeves at the beginning of the school year, said she’s sure he meant well.

“He wants the best and that’s what he made sure every parent knew. When he talked about it you could feel how endearing he was towards the children,” she told the TV station.

On Sunday, Bowling posted an apology on social media that said the hair guidelines were “not reflective of how we feel in any way.”

Reeves posted his own apology on Monday and issued a revised set of guidelines for the winter concert and upcoming shows.

“I wanted to send a note of apology for any negative feelings that were created due to the previous dress guideline communication,” he wrote.

“The wording and expectations were insensitive and were a mistake. My hope in the foreseeable future is to mend relationships that have been broken with students, parents, and the Pleasant Run Middle School community.”

His new concert dress code?

Students are required to wear a white top and black pants or skirt and are “encouraged to look their best the evening of the concert.”

A video created by Marcus High school received internet backlash after a student posted it on Twitter. The video has been criticized for the school's choice to feature only girls and music lyrics stating "Live fast, die young bad girls do it well."