Valedictorian, Student of the Year banned from graduation over beard
Posted May 29, 2016
AMITE CITY, La. — A Louisiana valedictorian and star athlete was prepared to exit high school with a bang when he was chosen to speak at his graduation. When the big day came, he certainly made waves, but for an entirely unexpected reason — his facial hair.
Andrew Jones finished first in his class with a 4.0 grade point average — earning him the title of Student of the Year and the honor of speaking, offering prayer and instructing his classmates when to turn their tassels at graduation, according to the Washington Post.
“He’s got a child, he’s got a baby and he’s still managed those grades,” Jones’ aunt, Sabrina Davis, told WVUE News.
With his proud family by his side, Jones put on his cap and gown with anticipation, ready to celebrate this big milestone. When he arrived at graduation, however, he was turned away at the door.
The reason? Jones happened to be sporting a beard, something banned by the school district’s dress policy. District officials told Jones and several other students that they could stay if they shaved. Jones said he shaved the sides of his beard but kept a goatee and was asked to turn in his cap and gown, according to ABC News.
A teacher later gave Jones his diploma, and he had to watch another student perform the duties he’d worked so hard to earn. Instead of marching with his classmates, he sat in the bleachers with the audience.
Davis posted about the situation on her Facebook page, quickly grabbing the attention of thousands of people across the country.
“How can u take away his moment?” Davis wrote. “U will never feel his pain and u can never give his moment back to him.”
The incident sparked outrage in the community and around the country, but school district officials defended the action, citing policy.
“I personally asked him to please go and shave so that he can walk with the other kids. He chose not to. I even asked the parents standing here to have him follow the policy,” Tangipahoa Parish school superintendent Mark Kolwe told ABC News. “This young man was given at least three opportunities.”
Jones told WVUE he was confused by the policy, claiming he sported his beard throughout all four years of high school without reprimand.
“I feel they should have let me march,” he said. “The hair on my face has nothing to do with school. I wasn’t distracting anybody.”
Jones’ supporters held a protest and rally in his honor, and plan to hold a private celebration and fundraiser for him this coming weekend.
Jones earned a scholarship at Southeastern Louisiana University and plans to play football there, WVUE reports.
Jessica Ivins is a content manager for KSL.com and contributor to the Motherhood Matters section.