Hair-cutting allegations dominate Mount Pleasant school board meeting; officials offer few answers
The regularly scheduled meeting of Mount Pleasant Public Schools on Monday was dominated by discussion of allegations that an elementary school staff member cut the hair of a biracial student without consulting or notifying the student’s parents.
Jimmy Hoffmeyer says his daughter, Jurnee, had an asymmetrical haircut after another student lopped off part of her hair on the bus the week before spring break. Days later, he says, a teacher in the school library, maybe seeking to even out Jurnee’s hair, cut it again.
He found out when she came home, he said.
School board President Amy Bond said news reports of the Hoffmeyers’ account were “inaccurate,” but offered no details and did not respond to subsequent questions from WCMU News seeking clarification.
The school district investigates all allegations of inappropriate conduct, Bond said, but it does not talk about them publicly.
“These investigations and corrective actions are not discussed in the press to ensure the privacy and rights of the students and staff,” said Bond.
Attendees who spoke during the public comment section of the online meeting called in from across the country and around the world and expressed outrage that the school board didn’t seem to recognize the importance of what the Hoffmeyers said happened to their daughter.
Scores of people speaking on Jurnee's behalf extended the meeting's length to several hours.
“I feel like maybe you don’t quite understand the impact of hair on the Black community,” said a speaker named Maya, who gave only her first name.
“She needs a voice from this community,” said a speaker named Trinity, who also gave only her first name.
Calling the haircut “an act of hatred,” Trinity said it was “far more traumatic than just cutting hair.”
Dr. Othelia Pryor, the founder of the Michigan Minority Health Coalition, connected disrespect in schools to disproportionate exposure to violence.
“The current assault that we’re seeing on people of color is horrendous. And it starts with the disrespect of this little 7-year-old’s hair, and her family. People are disrespecting us to the point of even taking our lives,” Pryor said.
The school board members sat largely silent, drawing the ire of some commenters who wanted them to respond to the allegations.
“The lack of emotion was incredibly insulting,” Jimmy Hoffmeyer said.
But the meeting was not for discussion, only for the board to hear public comment, said Bond.
As a result, there are still few public answers about what actions the board is taking to determine what happened to Jurnee, what inaccuracies it sees in Jimmy’s account, and whether any disciplinary actions are in the works.
The board pledged at the end of the meeting to be as transparent as possible while still following the law. In response to subsequent questions from WCMU News, school board members said that they were legally obligated to keep mum while an investigation was underway.
A spokesperson for the Michigan Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union, also said he could not comment until an investigation was complete.
The state education department said any decisions will be up to the district. “This is a local issue in which the Michigan Department of Education has no authority or jurisdiction,” said spokesperson Martin Ackley.
Jimmy Hoffmeyer said he wants the staff member who he says cut Jurnee’s hair suspended, but he also wants the board to explain why the haircut happened.
“Until they do, I’m going to keep bugging for answers,” he said.