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Student speaks out on school policy, says it discriminates against cultural beliefs

The Hardin Valley Academy has a policy that doesn't allow students to wear head apparel. A frustrated student posted on Facebook asking for this to change.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It was one of the first days of school when Avery Thrift, a senior at Hardin Valley Academy, felt once again frustrated. She said she looked at her friends around her as they had all gathered at the auditorium to listen to the annual speech on what rules and dress code to follow. 

The school officials went through the list, but this time Thrift said there was one policy that set her off and made her go on Facebook and speak out loud. 

The policy said, " Head apparel, except for religious or medical purposes, must not be worn inside the school building."

"I feel like even though, you know, durags and headscarves are not counted as religious, they are a cultural belief and I feel like Knox County schools really needs to understand that," Thrift said. "Especially if they want to be more understanding and want Knox County to be more diverse, I feel like they need to understand that the black community really needs to feel more welcomed here in Knox County Schools."

Thrift has been part of the Black Student Union and said she wants to make a change. Her Facebook post also called anyone who may have felt that this policy is unjust to direct message her. 

In the meantime, the school system remained first to the policy.10 News reached out asking if there was a reason for this policy and they sent the following statement, " all schools are expected to follow the dress code as outlined in Board policy J-260. At this time, the only exceptions are for religious and medical reasons."

But Richard Pacelle, a U.S. Supreme Court expert, said you can't penalize religion, and you can't help religion at the expense of everything else. Even more so with Tennessee being one of the handfuls of states to pass the Crown Act into law. 

"I think, particularly with the law, that the Crown Act says 'people can't be discriminated against because of the way that they wear their hair,' and so you are basically discriminating against them, you are running up against this law," Pacelle said.

For now, the policy will remain in place for the school system, but Thrift wishes to be given the opportunity to speak about this matter at the Knox County School board's next meeting. 

She wants to talk about the dress code and how important it is to have the freedom to wear what makes her feel comfortable. 

"It's very important to everyone, especially for the black community, because we want to feel welcomed," Thrift said. "We want to feel safe in our community, we don't want to feel like we can't express ourselves."

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