Hours before Andrew Jones’s high school graduation, his aunt posted photos on social media, showing the scholar-athlete posing with honor cords and a medal — an academic distinction that set him apart.
His mother put their pride into words.
“Today is ur big day my baby boi,” she wrote on Faceook. “Luv u to the fullest.”
Jones, 18, who his family said was valedictorian at Amite High School in Amite City, La., had prepared to give a reflection, prayer and tell his classmates when to turn their tassels.
He had put on his purple cap and gown.
He was ready to march across the stage.
But his family and friends said when he arrived at the graduation center on Wednesday night, he was stopped at the gate. His beard, school administrators told him, violated the school district’s dress code.
“They snatched his robe off him, and they took his awards,” Sabrina Davis, his aunt, told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “He had to sit in the stands and watch his friends and cousins graduate.”
A teacher brought him his diploma, and another student performed his duties.
The school district has not yet spoken about Jones’s academic standing.
On Monday, the American Mustache Institute announced it has written a letter to Superintendent Mark Kolwe, calling on him to end “discriminatory policies.”
“Indeed, by your treatment of Andrew Jones you demonstrate the district’s disinterest and unwillingness to extend an effort to ‘meet the needs of all students’ to young men or women wishing to lead a Mustached American lifestyle, which we believe to be a stark violation of civil liberties and of course contradict the scientifically-based principles of rugged good looks,” wrote Adam Paul Causgrove, chief executive officer of American Mustache Institute, a facial hair advocacy organization.
“Lest us remind you that as an academic institution of freedom and handsomeness, the staff and administration of the American Mustache Institute appreciate that your schools ‘know that the needs of children are similar, but not identical, and we try to adapt our program to this knowledge.’ ”
Kolwe told ABC News that Jones — and several other male students — had been warned many times before graduation to remove all facial hair. Even moments before the actual ceremony, Kolwe told CBS affiliate WWL, the students were given the opportunity to go to the restroom to shave.
Kolwe told ABC News the others “took care of what they had to do and marched,” but Jones did not.
“Our school board has a policy that does not allow any facial hair on male students,” he told ABC News, adding: “I personally asked him to please go and shave so that he can walk with the other kids. He chose not to.”
“I even asked the parents standing here to have him follow the policy.”
The Tangipahoa Parish School System policy states that “hairstyles and mustaches shall be clean, neatly groomed and shall not distract from the learning environment” and that “beards will not be allowed.”
Jones said he declined to shave a goatee because the situation was unfair.
“I refused to shave because I felt as if that was ridiculous, being that I went the whole school year with my facial hair,” he told The Post in a text message. “Plus, students from other schools in the district who graduated earlier that week marched with their facial hair, so why couldn’t I?”
Jones said he refused several times — then they asked for his gown.
“My parents came down and had a conversation with the school board members, discussing why they weren’t letting me march,” he said, “but it seemed as the superintendent wasn’t trying to hear anything they had to say.”
He added: “I just watched my graduation from the stands.”
Davis said Jones, a teenage father, worked hard in school, earning a 4.0 GPA and excelling in sports — track, football and basketball.
“High school is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be your moment, your memory,” she said. “They snatched that away from him.”
Davis said she did not understand why Jones’s facial hair had not been an issue during the school year.
Kolwe, the superintendent, did not explain to ABC News why the policy had not been enforced throughout the year but said the “principal was attempting to enforce the policy for graduation purposes.”
“The board has a policy and we have to adhere to the policy until it gets changed,” Kolwe told ABC News. “Until it changes, I’m responsible for following it.”
Fox News affiliate WVUE reported that the Tangipahoa parish NAACP chapter is looking into it.
“His robe and cap were taken so he could not march,” NAACP chapter President Patricia Morris told the news station, “and that’s just wrong.”
Davis said her nephew — who “was No. 1” — was made “invisible” on high school graduation day.
“You can take away his moment — you’re never giving him that back — but you will not take his talent from him, you will not take his dignity from him,” she said. “This is only the beginning.”
Jones’s family said he earned an academic scholarship and an athletic scholarship to Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond where he hopes to study to become an athletic trainer and, later on, maybe a coach.
This story has been updated.