Backlash ensues after 8-year-old Native American boy compelled to cut hair due to hair length policy at Kansas school

The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized a school district in southeast Kansas for making an 8-year-old Native American boy cut his long hair, despite the fact that long hair is an important part of his faith and culture.

R.V. Haderlein Elementary, which is located about 140 miles south of Kansas City, has a policy specifically for boys called “Boy’s Hair Length,” which requires boys to have short hair, according to the ACLU.

The boy’s mother, who belongs to the Wyandotte Nation, explained to the school that long hair is a religious and cultural symbol for their family, but the school officials still insisted on cutting the boy’s hair or threatening to send him home in the future.

The ACLU argues that the school’s decision violates several 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.

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

Girard Schools Superintendent Todd Ferguson, who was contacted via email, stated that the district is committed to ensuring that students feel safe and respected. He mentioned that he cannot provide individual comments due to confidentiality laws, but the district’s Board of Education is scheduled to review and consider updates to the dress code policy on December 14th.

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Males in boy’s tribe typically only cut hair when in mourning, ACLU says

In a letter sent on Friday, the ACLU requested 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.”

In the boy’s tribal customs, boys usually only cut their hair or keep it short when mourning the loss of loved ones. Last summer, the boy decided to follow this practice after observing other male tribal members with long hair.

The ACLU stated on its website that “Haderlein’s policy disproportionately affects Native American students and perpetuates a legacy of cultural, psychological, and spiritual trauma and discrimination.” The ACLU also emphasized that the school’s hair policy that discriminates based on sex sends a harmful message to boys, reinforcing rigid gender norms and roles.

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A timeline of events dating back to August

In August, the school district informed the boy’s family that he needed to cut his hair to comply with the dress code. The boy’s mother went to the school in the following month, requesting an exemption based on their faith and Native American customs. She even offered to provide documentation proving that the boy is listed on the Wyandotte Nation Tribal Roll. However, the district stated that there were no exemptions.

On September 22, the school’s assistant principal emailed the boy’s mother, stating that if his hair was not cut by September 25, he would be sent home. The assistant principal suggested that the boy’s mother contact the district superintendent to discuss the matter further.

According to the ACLU’s letter, the boy’s mother attempted to call the superintendent but her calls were ignored and not returned. Fearing that the boy would repeatedly face being sent home or suspended, the mother eventually cut his hair over the weekend.

“Because the Boy’s Hair Length Policy is facially unlawful, we also urge you to reevaluate and rescind the policy in its entirety,” stated the ACLU in its letter to the school district. The ACLU further urged the district to immediately grant an accommodation that would allow the boy to wear his hair below his shoulders in accordance with his cultural and religious traditions.

The district has until December 1 to respond to the ACLU’s requests.

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