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Hair length policy at Kansas school sparks backlash after Native American boy, 8, forced to cut hair




The American Civil Liberties Union condemned a southeast Kansas school district Friday for forcing an 8-year-old Native American boy to cut his long hair despite long hair being integral to his faith and culture.

R.V. Haderlein Elementary, located about 140 miles south of Kansas City, has a “Boy’s Hair Length” policy that calls for boys, not girls, to wear their hair short, the ACLU said.

The mother of the child, who is a member of the Wyandotte Nation, explained to the school that long hair is part of the family’s faith and culture but school officials still pushed her to cut the boy’s hair or else he would be sent home in the future.

The ACLU says the school’s decision violates multiple civil rights laws, including the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, the U.S. Constitution, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The school district’s policy states that for boys, hair cannot touch the collar of a crew neck t-shirt, cover their eyebrows or hang past their earlobes. Ponytails and rattails are not allowed either. There is no hair length policy for girls, the ACLU states.

When reached via email, Girard Schools Superintendent Todd Ferguson said the district cares about making students feel safe and respected. 

“I am unable to comment on individual students, families or employees, due to confidentiality laws. I can share that the USD 248 Board of Education is planning to review and consider updates to the dress code policy when they meet on December 14th,” he wrote via email Monday morning.

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In its letter sent Friday, the ACLU asked that the district allow the boy to wear his hair “past his shoulders, loose or in a braid, as his tribal and religious customs dictate.”

The boy’s tribal customs mainly allow boys to cut their hair or wear it short only when grieving loved ones who have passed away. The boy wanted to adopt the same practice after seeing other male tribal members wear their hair long last summer.

“Haderlein’s policy impacts Native American students disproportionately and perpetuates a legacy of cultural, psychological, and spiritual trauma and discrimination,” the ACLU said on its website. “Additionally, the school’s discriminatory sex-based hair policy sends a damaging message to boys that they cannot be feminine in any way, and this message harms all students by promoting rigid views of gender norms and roles.”

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A timeline of events stemming back to August

The school district told the boy’s family he needed to cut his hair to comply with the dress code in August. His mother went to the school the next month to request an exemption due to his faith and Native American customs. She also offered to show documentation that the boy is on the Wyandotte Nation Tribal Roll but the district told her there were no exemptions.

The school’s assistant principal emailed the boy’s mother on Sept. 22 and said if his hair was not cut by Sept. 25, he would be sent home. The assistant principal said the boy’s mother could contact the district superintendent to discuss it further.

According to the ACLU’s letter, the boy’s mother tried to call the superintendent but her calls were ignored and not returned. Thinking the boy would repeatedly be sent home or suspended, the boy’s mother cut his hair that weekend.

“Because the Boy’s Hair Length Policy is facially unlawful, we also urge you to reevaluate and rescind the policy in its entirety,” the ACLU wrote in its letter to the school district. 

“In the meantime, we urge you to immediately grant an accommodation allowing him to wear his hair below his shoulders in accordance with his cultural and religious traditions.”

The ACLU has given the district until Dec. 1 to respond to its requests.

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