🔷 NJ teen briefly kept out of basketball game

🔷 Hairstyle is protected under discrimination law

🔷 NJSIAA says incident was not bias, school disagrees

A female basketball player being briefly benched from playing in a school game due to her hairstyle earlier this month was not a bias incident, according to a new report from the organization that oversees athletic competitions between schools in New Jersey.

The South Orange-Maplewood school district filed a complaint with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association - after an athlete from Columbia High School was kept off-court for the first quarter of a game, for having beads in her hair.

On Friday, a report issued by the NJSIAA found it was not discrimination, as the teen was able to play after the beads were properly secured, as per specific rules.

In response, school officials said they were disappointed and disagreed with the findings.

Essex County

“We are very disappointed in the NJSIAA’s conclusion and disagree with the organization’s findings. We stand behind our student-athlete and her right to compete as her best self, as well as her family,” Acting Superintendent of the South Orange & Maplewood School District Kevin Gilbert said in a written statement issued Friday afternoon.

He continued, “We also stand behind our Columbia High School Girls Basketball Team coaches who brought this matter to the attention of the District and worked to promote understanding of the intentions of the CROWN Act and the importance of protecting our young people from discrimination.”

Hairstyle rules worked, according to NJSIAA

The player took part in both the junior varsity (JV) and varsity games on Jan. 4, against Caldwell High School.

Caldwell coaches noticed the beads during the JV game, which was played first, according to the NJSIAA.

Coaches then voiced concerns during the varsity warmups to an official, who in turn talked to the Columbia head coach.

National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rules permit players to wear beads in their hair, only if those beads are securely fastened, so as not to present a safety concern.

During the first quarter of the varsity game, the student securely fastened the beads and was then able to play in that game.

In its report, the NJSIAA cites game video that shows the player’s beads, not fastened, during the JV game and during varsity warmups.

“The record’s clear — the player participated in two games without the removal of her hair adornments; claims to the contrary are inaccurate,” NJSIAA Executive Director Colleen E. Maguire said in a written statement on Friday.

She continued “The style of hair was never challenged by officials or coaches. Braids are permitted as per the rules. Further, NFHS rules allow for hair adornments — including those made from hard items, such as beads – as long as those items are securely fastened to the head so they won’t pose an increased risk to the player, teammates, or opponents. NFHS rule-makers have taken steps to promote a respectful, open environment, while also creating as safe a competitive environment as possible.”

The NFHS rules have been in place since 2022, following the 2019 passage of New Jersey’s Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act — or CROWN Act.

It protects against racial discrimination that involves hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles.

The CROWN Act was introduced after a Buena Regional High School wrestler in 2018 was forced by a referee to cut off his dreadlocks in order to compete in a match.

The referee was later suspended for two years by the NJSIAA.

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