116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A Des Moines barbershop owner wants to know why there’s a double standard between barbering apprenticeships offered in Iowa prisons and what he can offer at his barbershop.
Prison barbers don’t have a license when they cut other offenders’ hair, and they usually aren’t training under a licensed instructor, but they are allowed to count those hours toward the 2,000 needed to complete a U.S. Department of Labor-certified barbering apprenticeship.
Iowa barbering apprentices outside the prison system must be trained by licensed barbers, have more written tests and learn to use a wider variety of tools — including scissors and straightedge razors.
“It’s definitely a prejudice going on,” said Teono Smith, co-owner of Tru All-American Barbershop & Apprenticeship in Des Moines. “My thing is why is it OK to let the (Department of Corrections) get away with it but we can’t, even though we do have instructors.”
Kristin Smith, Teono’s wife and Tru All-American co-owner, got an email Jan. 19 from Venus Vendoures Walsh, board executive for the Board of Barbering, saying the board had received a complaint about the apprenticeship program the Smiths started in October.
So far six people have joined the Tru All-American program, expected to last 12 to 14 months, Teono Smith told The Gazette earlier this month. Apprentices observe licensed barbers and eventually perform their own services, including cuts and facials. The apprentices make an hourly wage to start; later their pay will be based on commission.
The complaint alleged the Smiths were allowing unlicensed people to “provide barbering services and apprenticeship supervision,” the email said.
Vendoures Walsh pointed the Smiths to Iowa Code Section 158.2, which says “a person shall not practice barbering with or without compensation unless the person possesses a license issued under the provisions of 158.3.”
Code section 158.3 exempts Corrections Department barbering apprentices from the rules set in the rest of the section.
She asked the Smiths to provide by Feb. 2:
- List of all licensed barbers and their license numbers and hire dates.
- Copy of Smith’s license
- Copy of the barbershop’s Department of Labor registered apprenticeship agreement
- List of names of registered apprentices and their start dates
- Copy of the barbershop’s On-the-Job Learning (work experience) Form with licensed supervisor and apprenticeship signatures for each apprentice as completed to date.
The Smiths wrote back to the board that they would not be providing additional information about their apprenticeship, which has approval of the U.S. Department of Labor and the board. They said they would take their concerns about the state investigation to the state Civil Rights Commission, the ACLU and news media.
Monday morning, Teono Smith got a call saying the complaint had been dismissed, he said.
This isn’t the first time Iowa’s disparate licensing standards have been questioned. An eyebrow threading chain recently filed a lawsuit in Polk County, alleging Iowa’s requirements for brow threaders are onerous, expensive and don’t relate to the services provided.
There have been licensing reforms in other states, some of which now allow professional licenses to be portable to other states, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported in December 2020.
In May, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 424, which requires state licensing boards, such as the Board of Barbering, to grant licenses to people who have completed Department of Labor-certified apprenticeships as long as they’ve also passed required exams and paid fees.
When the board met Aug. 30, three Iowa barbershops had applied to have apprenticeship programs, according to meeting minutes.
The board said Aug. 30 it would write administrative rules for barbering apprenticeships by November, but those rules have not yet been written.
“A draft notice was written but rule-making was delayed so this rule-making can be noticed in tandem with the Cosmetology Arts & Sciences Board rules,” Sarah Ekstrand, a spokeswoman from the Iowa Department of Public Health, wrote to The Gazette. She said the cosmetology board’s rule-making process has been set back by COVID-19.
Ekstrand said the Iowa Department of Corrections is allowed to operate a barbering apprenticeship under its own rules, according to Iowa Code Chapter 158.3, which says anyone who completes a registered barbering apprenticeship within the prison system “shall be allowed to take the examination for a license to practice barbering.”
The Corrections Department, which started its barbering apprenticeship program in 2018, has seven graduates with a half-dozen other men training at prisons across the state.
In 2020, Mitchell Stites became the first person to complete the program. He got 2,200 hours of hair cutting experience as a barber at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, where prison barbers are authorized to use clippers — no scissors or straightedges — to cut the hair of other offenders.
When Stites was released in March 2020, he had to pass the state’s written test and a two-hour proctored test that includes doing haircuts with scissors, clippers and a straightedge razor as well as highlighting and perming a mannequin’s hair.
Stites opened his own barbershop, the Barber House, in Urbandale last June.
To enhance the barbering apprenticeship program, the Corrections Department is working to bring licensed barbers into the prisons to help with hands-on skills and to share business expertise, but that is sporadic.
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