Andrew Jones, #3, pictured in full beard during this past basketball season.
The following is a letter I sent to Tangipahoa Schools Superintendent Mark Kolwe and their school board.
26 May 2016
Dear Superintendent Kolwe,
Last night, I watched “The Nightly Show” with Larry Wilmore. In the first segment, he discussed the case of Andrew Jones at Amite High School. Living in New Orleans, I was already aware of the case, but I watched Wilmore present the absurdity of this situation to the nation. For the past week, this case has been a national embarrassment to the school, the parish, and the entire state. For me, it represents a tremendous lack of judgment and a colossal failure of leadership. It also exposed blatant hypocrisy present in your school system.
So, I began to research this situation more closely and I want to present my findings. My hope is that you will issue a public apology to Mr. Jones and his family. Additionally, since this once in a lifetime event was ruined because of what appears to have been an ego contest with an 18 year old, I recommend that you offer restitution to him in the form of a scholarship for college.
In your letter, which appears in the Amite Tangi Digest, you write:
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.
Indeed, the Student & Parent Handbook explicitly states this on page 8 under Student Dress Code, item #1 under dress code regulations grades 4-12. On page 9, it then describes how dress code violations will be handled, with the first violation resulting in a notice to parents and students (essentially a warning), and a subsequent violation resulting in a one day suspension due to disrespect of authority.
Jones and his family contend that he has worn a beard all year, and that he shaved part of it before the ceremony. I tend to agree with them, not because I know them, but by this story in the Hammond Star recapping the basketball season found here: http://www.hammondstar.com/sports/season-in-review-amite-warriors-district---a/article_ad9875c6-12e2-11e6-932f-47ef2c0ac71f.html).
The picture shows a young man, wearing a #3 on his jersey, who looks like Andrew Jones to me, with the fuller beard as he has described. I then checked the roster for the Amite Warriors and confirmed that Andrew Jones wore #3. (http://www.maxpreps.com/high-schools/amite-warriors-(amite,la)/basketball/roster.htm).
So the question is, why would you wait until graduation, after he has completed all requirements to graduate and will no longer attend the school, to finally enforce a policy that has been unenforced for an entire year? More specifically, why would you punish your top student, 4.0 grade point average, and three-sport athlete with academic and athletic scholarships to Southeastern Louisiana University, on the very last day of his formal association with Amite High School?
Yes, you are obliged to ensure the policies are followed. But policies were ignored during the football season. He was allowed to play football against Bogalusa in October, where the Amite Tangi Digest reported, “This would help set up a scoring drive that resulted in Walker hitting Andrew Jones for a 33-yard touchdown reception.” He was still playing in November, as the team played against Port Barre, The Advocate wrote “A fumbled punt snap gave Amite the ball at the Port Barre 39, and Walker drilled Andrew Jones with a 39-yard touchdown pass that made it 40-0.” He wore a full beard, in plain view, all through basketball season in the spring.
The height of the hypocrisy is that you personally made a case for an exception to a rule in the name of fairness for students. In late November, a fight between Amite and Bogalusa resulted in Amite being removed from the football playoffs for violating the Louisiana High School Athletic Association rule that players are automatically suspended for the next game if they leave the bench area during an altercation. In fact, you sued because you felt the decision was too harsh. In an Advocate article, it reads “Taking away the opportunity for senior players to continue their quest for a state title was also deemed unfair by the Tangipahoa contingent.”
At a school where only 36% of the students go to college within a year, where 80% of them are Black, and the average ACT is below 16, you are more willing to fight for students to participate in athletics than you are for an athlete who shows academic accomplishment to give his valedictory address at his only high school graduation.
This facial hair rule, one that was not enforced all year long, is now non-negotiable at the very end of the year. Again referencing the handbook, page 10 explains discipline and indicates that administrators will “implement the Student Code of Conduct in a fair and consistent manner” (#3), “implement Board policy in a fair and consistent manner” (#7), and “use professional judgment to prevent minor incidents from becoming major challenges” (#5). There is nothing fair or consistent in the implementation of this rule, and now this minor incident has become a national embarrassment.
The interim principal, and you as superintendent, failed on these responsibilities. However, if you are willing to exercise leadership, you can work to make amends to Andrew Jones and his family. Here are my suggestions:
1. A public apology should be issued to Andrew Jones and his family. It is still okay to say “I’m sorry” and “We made a mistake.”
2. Work within the local community to find a venue for Andrew to give his commencement address. He should still be afforded that opportunity.
3. Some form of restitution would be appropriate in the form of a scholarship to assist with his first year of college. That moment has passed and cannot be relived, but a scholarship would serve as a tangible expression of regret.
Please understand that these actions display a, hopefully unconscious, bias that allows you to advocate for Black students on the field or court, but to be punitive when it comes to academics. The vast majority of them will never be professional athletes, but they can use their athletic ability to pay for college. And so when you have a true scholar athlete like Andrew, he must be celebrated profusely so that he becomes a role model for others to follow.
It is my hope that you will rectify this situation as best as possible.
Walter M. Kimbrough, Ph.D.
Walter M. Kimbrough, Ph.D.