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Hair is serious business. When schools start regulating students' hair styles, they should tread carefully or risk receiving a federal civil rights complaint.
Late last year, five-year-old Jalyn Broussard happily went to school with a new haircut. His new style was innocent enough. He had a "fade" which was short on the sides and longer on the top. According to his school, this haircut was a distraction to other students, so they sent him home.
Now, Jalyn is represented by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, a legal advocacy group. The group has just filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging racial discrimination in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act states, "no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefit of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
According to the school's hair policy, "All hairstyles must be appropriate for a Catholic grade school: extreme hairstyles, hair dye, highlights or extensions are not allowed (this includes feathers, foils, tinsel, "bling strands", hi-lites, faux hawks, tails, and spiking ... )."
Jalyn's mother, Marianna Broussard, disputes the school's characterization of Jalyn's hair style as a faux hawk. She contends that her son is being singled out for harsher treatment because he is African-American. In her communication with the school, Mrs. Broussard pointed out that another student had a similar haircuts, short on the sides and longer on top. The other student was allowed to keep his hairstyle without any interference from the school.
The school's principal tried to argue that the other student's hairstyle did not violate the school policy because it was "longer on the top [on] the crown only," while Jalyn's haircut did violate the policy because it "goes from the top of the forehead to base of neck hair line in a strip." Are you convinced?
The Broussards aren't convinced by the principal's explanation at all. Instead, they believe that this "hair debate" is just one more incident in a pattern of racially discriminating treatment aimed at Jalyn.
In recompense, the Broussards are demanding that the school conduct cultural sensitivity training for the staff and administration, create a stronger anti-discrimination policy, and develop more culturally inclusive school discipline policies.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.