AMITE, La. -- During a rally Monday for Andrew Jones, the Amite High School 2016 valedictorian, who was not allowed to participate during the graduation ceremony because he wouldn't shave, there were calls for school officials to resign.
The Tangipahoa Parish NAACP said Jones' discrimination is an example of the many issues that have been fought in the parish's desegregation lawsuit for years. Because of that, they are calling for the resignation of the superintendent and three board members.
About 20 people showed up for the protest outside of the Tangipahoa Parish School System office. The NAACP said it has discovered photos of white students with beards participating in previous commencement ceremonies at Amite High. Jones is African-American
Superintendent Mark Kolwe released a statement defending the decision to deny Jones an opportunity to participate in the ceremony.
"The Tangipahoa Parish School Board Student Dress Code Policy states that 'beards will not be allowed.' As Superintendent, I am obligated to ensure that all Board policies are followed," Klowe said.
Klowe added that Jones was informed in April that he must be "clean shaven" to participate. On May 9, Jones' mother was reminded via phone call that he needed to be clean shaven.
During graduation practice, the school principal informed the male students, including Jones, who were not clean shaven, that they had three options: Shave before the ceremony, come to graduation and shave at the site with shaving cream and razors provided, or don't shave and they wouldn't be able to participate, Klowe said.
Jones was one of four students who showed up at the ceremony unshaven. The other three students opted to shave at the site, while Jones refused, according to Klowe.
"At this time, the teachers informed the principal that Andrew refused to shave and said that Andrew stated to them that he would watch the graduation from upstairs in the spectator seats. After hearing this, the principal asked one of the teachers to please get the robe from Andrew. The principal then went into the stands to speak with Andrew's mother regarding his refusal to shave. His mother asked his father to go speak with him about his decision. When asked, Andrew relinquished his robe to the teacher without questions or comments. After this, two other Amite High School teachers spoke with Andrew regarding his decision not to shave and he replied that he would receive his diploma whether he participated in the ceremony or not. One of the teachers questioned Andrew about how his mother would react to his decision not to participate and Andrew replied that his mother had tried to convince him to shave, but he refused," Klowe said.
Klowe said school officials had no choice but follow policy.
"It is regrettable that any student particularly an honor student like Andrew-- would not get to participate in his high school graduation ceremony, a ceremony that comes along only once in the lifetime of every student. In this case, however, Andrew made that decision for himself by failing to comply with the reasonable requests made by his parents and school officials that he comply with the rules applicable to all other students," Klowe said.