San Francisco

Bay Area Kindergartner's Haircut Leads to Civil Rights Complaint

A kindergartner’s fade haircut – a little bit longer on top, buzzed on the sides – has created a federal flap involving claims of racial discrimination and prompted that little boy to shave his head just so he could participate in the school’s Christmas concert.

Last week, lawyers filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights describing how Jalyn Broussard, 6, of Belmont, California, was told to go home because his haircut – a modern fade – apparently violated the Catholic school’s hair policy.

“We want the school to change its policies, and offer some sort of cultural sensitivity training,” Jennifer Weiser Bezoza, an attorney with the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, told NBC Bay Area. “Cultural differences should be embraced, not punished.”

Bezoza said she personally has handled many racial discrimination cases, but none having to do solely with the style of hair. Because the school receives some federal funding, it is held accountable to federal non-discrimination Title VI rules, Bezoza argued, which in her opinion, the school has violated.

The school, Immaculate Heart of Mary School, for its part, isn’t commenting. But San Francisco Archdiocese spokesman Larry Kamer said that the Archdiocese is at a “bit of a disadvantage because we haven’t seen the complaint.” But in general, “our core values are tolerance, acceptance and respect of diversity.” 

He also said that the hair policy is “very clear” and parents accept the rules before registering their children. “Most parents welcome a uniform code,” he said.

The hair policy, in part, is referenced in the Broussard’s June 23 complaint to the US Department of Education. It states that “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.)”

But Jalyn’s mother, Mariana Broussard, a pharmaceutical representative, said her son’s haircut is not a faux hawk, it’s a “modern fade,” also worn by  Michael Strahan, the talk-show host and former New York Giants defensive end.

“I didn’t even know what a faux hawk is,” Broussard said on Tuesday. “I had to Google it. And it’s not that long, spiky style.”

As she tells it, her husband, Errol Broussard, a chef, took Jalyn and his 8-year-old brother, Noah, on Dec. 17, 2014 to get new haircuts. “They were so excited, they wanted to look like the Michigan basketball team,” Broussard said. Jalyn got the fade, and his brother went bald.

“It was the first time he got a different hair cut from his brother,” she said.

She also said that she and her husband, whose family has belong to Immaculate Heart for 30 years, both read the school policies on hair and “we didn’t feel his hair violated that policy.”

So, she was surprised the next day when she got a call from a teacher to come pick up Jalyn from school because of his hair. “It made me really angry,” she said, adding that over the next several weeks, the school administrators appeared to not want to have to deal with her or find any reasonable compromise.

So Broussard took photos of three other students, two white and one half-white and half-Japanese, who have similar styles, and who were allowed to stay in school, according to the complaint.  The Asian student, who is in eighth grade and got his hair cut on Jan. 5, the complaint reads, was allowed to celebrate Mass before the “entire school and church community.” Another second grade girl had bows in her hair that were deemed too big, the complaint states, but instead of being sent home, that girl just had a letter sent home to her parents about appropriate head gear.

Broussard pointed out her son’s fade was “entirely consistent” with school policy because it was “short, neat and tapered.”  But, according to the complaint, School Principal  Teri Grosey  told Broussard “in these situations, it is best that the child be removed from the school environment so that he does not unduly influence the student body.”

According to Broussard, there are five African-American students at Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Included in her complaint, Broussard said that both Jalyn and his brother, Noah, also got “red cards,” or more harsher discipline from teachers in the past, which she says is most likely because of their race.

As for what happened to Jalyn, since he wanted to attend the Christmas festivities at school last year, he ended up shaving his head to be able to attend, his mother said. The Broussards pulled both Jalyn and Noah out of the Catholic school in January to attend their neighborhood public school. Switching schools has been an adjustment, his mother said, but overall it’s good.

And Jalyn’s hair has grown back.

“He grew his fade back,” his mom said. “He definitely did.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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