A Louisiana high school valedictorian is getting the honor he earned, as many continue to debate compliance with selectively enforced school district policies.
About 200 people attended an event at the African-American Heritage Museum in Hammond, Louisiana, on Friday to celebrate he student who was banned from his graduation ceremony over his refusal to comply with a rule that banned facial hair, reports Fox News.
State Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe) and the Rev. Roosevelt Wright III spearheaded the ceremony. Jackson explained to the Associated Press why she thought it was important to recognize Andrew Jones’ achievement:
“Anytime a young man such as Andrew has shown academic excellence, it’s unfair to not reward him. His academic achievements are incredible.”
The story behind the event raised questions about whether Jones had a right to refuse compliance with a school policy that went unenforced until graduation day.
Tangipahoa Parish School System’s superintendent, Mark Kolwe, said the school district has a longstanding facial hair ban. Jones was one of about four graduating seniors who showed up for the ceremony with facial hear, even though they had been warned of the consequences. Jones, who had a 4.0 grade point average, declined to shave his beard in the restroom at the site, opting instead to wear a neatly trimmed goatee.
Jones later told WWL-TV that the ban “didn’t make sense” because students were permitted to have facial hair throughout the school year.
Indeed, WWL-TV found two pictures of Jones wearing a beard this school year—on campus and at the school board office.
When the TV station sought an explanation, Kolwe told WWL-TV that Amite High School’s principal was unavailable. The AP said Kolwe did not respond to its request for an interview.
Jackson told the AP that she, at first, believed that Jones was at fault for not complying with the school district’s policy. But the lawmaker changed her mind when she learned that the policy was enforced inconsistently.
“It’s wrong to enforce that policy on a young man who had worked so hard to achieve his goals,” Jackson told the AP. “Students are responsible for following rules, but we as adults are responsible for enforcing them. As adults, we can’t arbitrarily enforce the rules. This was a rule that was never enforced until graduation.”
Jones’ family has said students at other schools in the district were permitted to march with their class despite having facial hair. When the AP sought an interview, the family cited a pending lawsuit as their reason for not commenting further.