Native American Boy Forced to Cut Hair Sparks
An unsettling incident in Kansas has brought attention to cultural insensitivity in schools, as an 8-year-old Native American boy was compelled to cut his hair to comply with his elementary school’s hair policy. The Kansas American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has denounced the policy as “discriminatory” and is urging the school to rescind it. The boy, a member of the Wyandotte Nation, faced this dilemma in violation of his cultural and religious traditions. This article delves into the details of the incident, the cultural context, and the ACLU’s call for a policy review.
The incident occurred at R.V. Haderlein Elementary School in Girard, Kansas, part of the Girard Unified School District. The ACLU sent a letter to school officials, demanding an immediate accommodation for the student to wear his hair below his shoulders in accordance with his Native American heritage. The boy’s mother had requested an exemption in September, citing the cultural and spiritual significance of long hair in the Wyandotte Nation. However, the school’s assistant principal insisted that the boy’s hair be cut, threatening to send him home if not complied with.
The ACLU revealed that many men in the Wyandotte Nation traditionally cut their hair only during periods of mourning, emphasizing the cultural and spiritual significance of long hair for the tribe. The Wyandotte Nation issued a statement urging the school and district to reconsider their hair length policy for boys, highlighting the historical trauma associated with forced hair cutting as a means of cultural oppression. This trauma echoes the dark history of Indigenous children being sent to Indian residential boarding schools.
School Policy and Response:
The R.V. Haderlein Elementary School’s student handbook outlines a specific policy for male students’ hair, restricting it from touching the collar, covering the eyebrows, or extending below the earlobes. The handbook explicitly prohibits ponytails, rat tails, or any style that circumvents the policy. In response to the ACLU’s letter, Girard USD Superintendent Todd Ferguson stated that the district would review the policy. The Board of Education is set to discuss potential updates to the dress code policy on December 14th.
Jennesa Calvo-Friedman, an ACLU attorney and co-author of the letter, expressed appreciation for the school board’s willingness to consider updates to the policy. However, she emphasized the irreversible impact on the child, stating, “nothing will sort of undo the fact that this little baby was forced to cut off his hair by the community that was supposed to be his own learning community.” The ACLU’s intervention follows a series of incidents in which school hair policies have been criticized as discriminatory.
This incident in Kansas adds to a growing concern over discriminatory hair policies in schools. In a recent case in Texas, a Black high school student was referred to alternative school due to the length of his locs hairstyle. Advocates argue that such policies disproportionately target students of color and infringe upon their cultural expression. The ACLU’s involvement in both cases highlights the need for a broader conversation about cultural sensitivity and inclusivity in school policies.
The story of the Native American boy forced to cut his hair in Kansas sheds light on the ongoing challenges faced by students from diverse cultural backgrounds in navigating rigid school policies. The incident underscores the importance of revisiting and revising such policies to ensure they respect and accommodate the cultural and religious practices of all students. As the school district reviews its policy, it is hoped that a more inclusive and culturally sensitive approach will be adopted, fostering an environment where every student feels safe, respected.