An 8-year-old Native American boy in Kansas was forced to cut his hair to comply with his elementary school’s hair policy, according to the Kansas American Civil Liberties Union, which called the policy “discriminatory.”
In a letter sent Friday to school officials with the Girard Unified School District in Girard, Kansas, and the R.V. Haderlein Elementary School, the ACLU demanded the school rescind its hair policy.
The ACLU Kansas said it wants the school to “immediately grant [the redacted student’s name] an accommodation allowing him to wear his hair below his shoulders in accordance with his cultural and religious traditions.”
According to the legal advocacy group, the boy is a member of the Wyandotte Nation, a federally recognized Native American Tribe based in Wyandotte, Oklahoma. The ACLU did not release the name of the child or his mother.
In August, the boy was told to cut his hair and the following month his mother asked for an exemption because of his Native American heritage and spiritual beliefs, the ACLU wrote in the letter. Many men in the Wyandotte Nation only cut their hair when mourning the loss of a loved one, the letter said.
The school’s assistant principal sent an email to the boy’s mother saying the boy’s hair had to be cut, “or he will be sent home,” the ACLU said in its letter.
According to the ACLU, the mother decided to cut the boy’s hair out of fear that her son would be reprimanded and to ensure he would be able to go to school, but the decision “caused him distress.”
The Wyandotte Nation said in a statement shared with CNN that the school and school district should “take a close look at its rule governing boys’ hair length in light of the unique history involving Native American children.”
“For centuries, tribal people have faced a siege of cultural oppression. This oppression has taken many forms including, but not limited to, the forced cutting of Native American men and boys’ hair in order to impose conformity with dominant white culture and to stifle long-held religious and traditional Native American practices and beliefs,” the tribe said.
“This is a culturally sensitive issue that brings to light historical traumas for many tribal nations, beyond our own,” the tribe added, referencing when Indigenous children were sent to Indian residential boarding schools.
“We hope that a respectful, culturally informed discourse between the family and the school representatives will ultimately lead to a workable resolution.”
The R.V. Haderlein Elementary School student handbook has a policy specifically for male students’ hair that states, “Hair is not to touch the collar of a crew neck t-shirt, cover the eyebrows, or extend below the earlobes. Ponytails, rat tails, or any other style that would circumvent the policy are not permitted.”
When asked about the school’s policy and the letter from the ACLU, Girard USD Superintendent Todd Ferguson told CNN the district will review the policy.
“Nothing matters more to the USD 248 district and staff than creating a safe, respectful and caring school for every student. I am unable to comment on individual students, families or employees, due to confidentiality laws,” Ferguson said in an email. “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.”
Jennesa Calvo-Friedman, an ACLU attorney and co-author of the letter, told CNN she appreciates that the school board is going to consider updates to the policy.
“I hope that the school district changes the policy now and takes seriously the statement that a safe, respectful and caring environment for every student is important,” Calvo-Friedman said. “But also, 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 letter follows a recent series of incidents regarding hair policies in schools that advocates have called discriminatory.
In Texas, a Black high school student was referred to alternative school last month over the length of his locs hairstyle, CNN previously reported.