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School that barred 7-year-old's dreadlocks changes dress-code policy

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Jasmin Aline Persch, TODAY contributor

Facing backlash, the elementary school in Tulsa, Okla., that barred 7-year-old Tiana Parker from wearing her hair in dreadlocks has changed its dress-code policy.

Deborah Brown Community School administrators and school board members met on Monday night, and the school board voted to nix the mention of specific hairstyles in the policy.

According to local Tulsa media outlet NewsOn6.com, the charter school's policy now states, "The Administration reserves the right to contact the parents/guardians regarding any personal hygiene issues that it believes causes a risk to the health, safety and welfare of the student, his or her classmates, and faculty or staff or detracts from the educational environment."

The school's policy, which has not yet been updated on its website, previously read, "hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros and other faddish styles are unacceptable." 

Tiana ended up changing schools this year rather than her hairdo, and her family plans to keep her enrolled in her new school despite the policy shift. Tiana's family released this statement in response to Monday night's decision:

"We are of course happy for future students and families at Deborah Brown Community School. However, that does not change the fact that our 7-year-old daughter, Tiana, was made to feel that there was something wrong with her appearance, in turn coming home in tears. Even now, we have not been contacted by any of the administrators at Deborah Brown Community School nor has an apology been made to our daughter."

The statement continues, "Regarding next steps, our focus is on Tiana and all of the ‘Tiana's' in the world who have ever been made to feel this way. This is now much bigger than Tiana, and we know that the conversation cannot end here."

Tiana and her dreadlocks garnered an outpouring of support on the Internet, including Facebook pages dubbed "Dear Tiana Parker, You are Beautiful" and "We Love Tiana & Her Hair," which have more than 1,900 likes combined.

An online petition on Credomobilize.com received more than 20,000 signatures asking for a public apology from the school to Tiana and her family and a dress-code change.

NewsOn6.com reported that the school board apologized about the incident on Monday night.

Tiana had worn her hair in dreadlocks during the previous school year, but officials at the Deborah Brown Community School decided this year to enforce the school's dress-code policy.

"It made me feel like she felt — like she wasn't wanted in school," Tiana's father, Terrance Parker, told msnbc NewsNation's Tamron Hall on Monday.

Langston University, the Deborah Brown Community School's sponsor, was not involved in the drafting of the old policy but released a statement on Monday saying that its president, Kent Smith, "supports the change in the policy because it reflects an important value at Langston University to respect the individuality of students." After Tiana switched schools, Smith discussed the policy with the school's superintendent, Deborah Brown.

Terrance Parker told TODAY.com that the school informed him two weeks ago that his daughter's hair violated its policy. Parker said he requested leniency and noted that Tiana's teachers had complimented her on her hair just last year. He said Tiana had asked her parents for the dreadlocks.

"My daughter Tiana is very unique," said Parker, 27. "She's a loner. She wears (country) boots all the time. If she finds something she likes, I don't want anybody to tear her down. Whether you like it or not, I always taught my kids to be who they want to be."

The Deborah Brown Community School referred TODAY.com to its attorney, who has not responded to interview requests.

Parker described his daughter as a good girl — a straight-A student who likes math and loves the country and fishing with her grandparents. Getting rid of her dreadlocks would mean cutting her hair, which was upsetting for Tiana.

"She told her mom, ‘I don't want to cut my hair,'" Parker said. "I got her into the school because the education was good. I want the best for my kids."

Tiana attended her new school in Tulsa, Anderson Elementary, all last week. She told TODAY.com that she's enjoying the new school, which accepts her hairstyle. She also said she was sad that "they didn't like my dreads" at her old school, but she's "happy" now.

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