An 8-year-old Native American boy who had grown out his hair to honor his ancestry was made to get a haircut after being threatened with suspension from school, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas said.
In a letter sent on Friday, the A.C.L.U called on the Girard Unified School District in southeastern Kansas to rescind the policy that requires boys to wear their hair short and to allow the student to wear his hair long, based on his cultural beliefs. Refusing to accommodate the student’s religious and cultural beliefs violates state and federal law, the A.C.L.U said.
The policy will be reviewed in December, the school district’s superintendent said on Monday.
The student is just the latest to have faced punishment at school over clothing or a hairstyle that reflected their cultural heritage. Earlier this year, a Black high school student in Texas with locs, which are long ropelike strands of hair, was suspended over the length of his hair. In Colorado, a high school student was barred from wearing a sash at her graduation that honored her Mexican American heritage.
Tina Daniel, principal of R.V. Haderlein Elementary, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Todd Ferguson, superintendent of the school district, said in an email that the dress code policy will be reviewed at a meeting in December. Mr. Ferguson declined to comment about the boy, citing confidentiality rules.
Mr. Ferguson wrote that “nothing matters more” to the district and staff “than creating a safe, respectful and caring school for every student.”
The A.C.L.U. said in a statement that not allowing a Native American student to wear his hair long recalled efforts to “separate Native American children from their families and tribes and to deny them their rights of cultural and religious expression.”
Starting in the early 1800s, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were forcibly taken from their homes and sent to boarding schools across the United States as part of an effort to assimilate young Indigenous people. At these schools, they were often stripped of their tribal clothing and hairstyles.
The letter does not identify the boy by name other than as an 8-year-old who is a member of Wyandotte Nation, which is based in Oklahoma, and attends R.V. Haderlein Elementary in Girard, Kan.
The boy attended a youth event of the Wyandotte Nation over the summer and was inspired to take on the spiritual and cultural practice of wearing his hair long, the A.C.L.U. said. But when the school year began in August, he was told that he needed to cut his hair to comply with a school dress code policy that requires boys to have short hair, according to the letter.
The school does not have a hair-length policy for girls and its dress code promotes “rigid views of gender norms and roles,” the A.C.L.U. said.
The boy’s mother, whose name was redacted from the letter, visited the school in early September to ask if her son could be exempt from the school’s hair policy, according to the A.C.L.U. The mother also offered to show documentation that her son is a member of the Wyandotte Nation.
On Sept. 22, the boy’s mother received an email from the school’s assistant principal that said the boy was required to cut his hair by the following Monday “or he will be sent home.” The boy’s hair was cut that weekend, the A.C.L.U. said.
The organization said that R.V. Haderlein Elementary’s “policy impacts Native American students disproportionately and perpetuates a legacy of cultural, psychological, and spiritual trauma and discrimination.”