Cosmetology school brushes aside protest 20 strike, but official says equipment is operational

May 22, 1998|By Paula Lavigne | Paula Lavigne,SUN STAFF

In a protest of working conditions they claim are hazardous and crimping their education, about 20 students went on strike yesterday at a downtown cosmetology school.

Wearing white hairdresser uniforms, the students -- most nearly finished the 1,500-hour training program -- stood outside the Baltimore Studio of Hair Design at 18 N. Howard St. as clients filed in to have their hair styled.

The students' complaints include inadequate ventilation, moldy bathrooms, dangerous stairs and broken or malfunctioning equipment. Students said hair dryers are held together with glue, and senior Daunique Johnson said she received an electric shock from one of the dryers Tuesday.

On Tuesday, about 35 students took their complaints to Pete Lebowitz, the school's financial aid director. Lebowitz said he would have been more responsive if given time to act before the strike.

"It's pretty much they want, they want, they want," he said. "What we can do for them, we will."

He said the equipment is old and worn, but operational, and the school is cleaned every night. During a tour of the school, Lebowitz pointed out reupholstered chairs next to chairs with taped-over rips. Some dryers had chipped paint.

Lebowitz said he has tried to have the hydraulic chairs repaired, but service people are scarce, and not enough money is available to buy new equipment.

Students pay $5,200 for the course, which has an enrollment of 115. Federal grants cover most of the tuition, Lebowitz said, and students pay the balance after graduation. The protesters wanted to know how their money is being used.

"It's none of their business where the money goes," Lebowitz said. "I drive a Taurus, and I don't own a $500,000 house."

He added, "Students come here by choice."

The protesters said conditions at the salon, which primarily has black clients, are worse than those at the Essex and Owings Mills branches operated as the Maryland Beauty Academy -- which they say draw a wealthier, white clientele. All three are owned by Maxine Sisserman, who encouraged the students to address their problems in a proper format and return to their studies.

Danielle Melton, a senior leading the protest, said conditions made it impossible for the students to be prepared for licensing exams. The school is under the state Board of Education's jurisdiction.

In the lobby, about 15 customers said they had no complaints about the equipment.

"I've been coming here for seven years, and my hair isn't out of my head," said Doris Bryson. "I guess it's pretty good."

Pub Date: 5/22/98

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