Southaven student says she wasn’t allowed to walk at graduation due to hair

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. — A Southaven teen said she was forced to make a choice between walking across the stage or hiding her colorful hair in order to participate in her high school graduation ceremony.

Jena Chambers was ranked 20th in her class overall and got a 31 on her ACT.

“Theater stage manager, president of International Thespian Society, National Honor Society.”

These are just a handful of the accomplishments Jena Chambers has achieved in her four years at Southaven High School, pushing through the challenges that come with high-functioning autism.

Graduation was Tuesday night, but she didn’t walk across the stage with her class.

“I’ve kind of always said if I can’t walk, like if they don’t want me to have my hair that I’ve had the past four years and I just won’t walk,” she said.

So that’s what she did.

Chambers said she was told by school leaders that she could walk, but only if she pinned up her hair, which is currently blue and pink, under her cap.

“I mean my hair, it’s not a clear and present danger to anybody. It’s not distracting. I’m not hurting anyone. So it shouldn’t really matter,” she said.

The Southaven High School handbook does point out that no extreme coloring is allowed for hair.

The Desoto County School District said each principal sets the guidelines for graduation ceremonies.

But Jenna said she’s had her hair an assortment of colors over her four years, from purple to blue to pink, and she never got in trouble for it until hours before graduation.

It’s something she and her mother, Tracy Chambers, said they worked so hard for and have no memories to show for it.

“She just she doesn’t have photos in her gown with her friends. She doesn’t have with her teachers that she loved and adored because there are teachers at her school that her graduating would not be possible without those teachers,” said Tracy Chambers.

Jena and her mom say instead, they’ll be taking grad pictures at city hall and going out to a family dinner, having a mini grad celebration of their own this week.