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Education

School district says employees could face discipline for biracial child’s haircut at school

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Brett Dahlberg
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WCMU News

The Mid-Michigan school district where a parent says a staff member cut his biracial daughter’s hair without his permission is considering discipline against the employees involved.

In an emailed statement, Mount Pleasant Public Schools Superintendent Jennifer Verleger said the Ganiard Elementary library employee who cut the student’s hair, and the teacher who was aware of the haircut, have both “admitted their actions and apologized.”

Both employees “are being reviewed for further disciplinary actions in accordance with our school policies and procedures,” Verleger’s statement said.

Jimmy Hoffmeyer said the student referenced in the statement is his 7-year-old daughter, Jurnee.

He said the district’s timeline presented in Verleger’s statement matches his daughter’s account: On March 23, Jurnee’s hair was cut on the bus home from school by another student at the elementary school.

On March 26, he said, Jurnee came home with hair missing again and told him a school library employee had cut it.

Verleger said the student asked the library employee “to help fix her hair.”

“Rather than declining this request or consulting with the student’s parents or school administrators, the library employee – who is also a cosmetologist – agreed to even out the student’s hair to make her feel better.”

The employee “brought in professional shears and special barrettes,” Verleger said.

But a 7-year-old can’t consent to a haircut, and a cosmetology license does not permit a person to cut hair in a place that’s not licensed as a cosmetology establishment, said Christina Laster, the National Parents Union director of policy and legislation.

“The implication by Mount Pleasant Public Schools that Jurnee asked for the haircut and was being done a favor by all parties isn't consistent with her story, the family's understanding, and not within legal parameters,” Laster said in a statement.

Verleger said the library employee, and the student’s teacher, who knew of the plan to cut her hair, had “good intentions,” but their actions were “unacceptable and show a lack of judgment.”

Advocates across the country jumped on Jurnee’s case earlier this week as an example of systemic racism. When white children come to school with unconventional haircuts, they’re often met with praise, said Bernita Bradley, a Detroit delegate to the National Parents Union.

They get comments like, “That is so, like, just funky and courageous, and just vibrant,” Bernita said.

On the other hand, Black children whose hair doesn’t match expectations are “ostracized as an issue. Any time they are stepping out of the box, it’s seen as an issue,” Bradley said.

Bradley and other callers from across the country spoke during the public comment period of a regularly scheduled school board meeting on Monday, telling the board its response to Jurnee’s haircut failed to recognize the importance of hair in communities of color.

Verleger said in her statement that she has “personally apologized to the family on behalf of the school district,” and the district strives to “ensure all our students can learn and achieve in an inclusive, safe environment free from harassment, discrimination, bigotry or intolerance.”

She said the district’s investigation is not yet complete.

Laster said the National Parents Union was considering legal action.

Full statements from Verleger and Laster are below.

 

Statement from Mount Pleasant Public Schools Superintendent Jennifer Verleger:

At Mount Pleasant Public Schools, we strive to ensure all our students can learn and achieve in an inclusive, safe environment free from harassment, discrimination, bigotry or intolerance.

We work hard each day to foster a culture of respect, compassion and kindness so all our students, families, staff and visitors feel welcome and supported.

You may be aware of recent media reports and social media posts regarding an incident involving a Ganiard Elementary student. Our district is conducting a full review of this matter including conducting interviews and reviewing videotaped evidence.

In the spirit of transparency, I wanted to provide you an update so you can have an accurate and more complete picture of events as we now know them from our ongoing internal review.

On Tuesday, March 23, a Ganiard Elementary student asked her friend who is also an elementary student to cut her hair at school. The friend removed scissors from a classroom without permission and cut a portion of the student’s hair while riding home on a public transportation bus. The next school day, the principal met with both students to discuss the incident.

The student grew unhappy and dissatisfied with the way her hair looked after the other student cut it and asked a school library employee to help fix her hair during a classroom visit to the library.

Rather than declining this request or consulting with the student’s parents or school administrators, the library employee – who is also a cosmetologist – agreed to even out the student’s hair to make her feel better. She brought in professional shears and special barrettes. Our preliminary review shows the student’s teacher was also aware the library employee was planning to cut the student’s hair.

On Friday, March 26, the library employee cut the student’s hair at the student’s request and without obtaining permission from the student’s parents or consulting with school administrators. Regardless of their good intentions, these actions are unacceptable and show a lack of judgement on the part of our two employees. Both employees have admitted their actions and apologized. Both are being reviewed for further disciplinary actions in accordance with our school policies and procedures. I have personally apologized to the family on behalf of the school district.

Our review is ongoing and we will provide updates as we gather more information. As always, please do not hesitate to contact me at (989) 775-2301 or jverleger@mp.edzone.net.

Statement from National Parents Union Director of Policy and Legislation Christina Laster:

The National Parents Union has reviewed the formal position of Mount Pleasant Public Schools regarding Jurnee Hoffmeyer's hair cut.

We believe that children, parents, and families are trustworthy and the most credible source of information about themselves.  It is our mission to disrupt narratives that attempt to penalize them for actions that schools, school leaders, and school systems should be aware of, responsible and accountable for.  That being said our formal position is in support of Jurnee Hoffmeyer and family. 

1.  7 years old is not the proper or legal age for consent. The implication by Mount Pleasant Public Schools that Jurnee asked for the haircut and was being done a favor by all parties isn't consistent with her story, the family's understanding, and not within legal parameters.  Jurnee Hoffmeyer loved her hair that she grew from birth & DID NOT seek out a hair cut at school. 

2.  All adults in any environment have a legal and fiduciary responsibility to care for minor children left in their care.   In Loco Parentis or in place of the parent does not give any adult caring for a minor child the right to violate or assault them.   Treat our children as you would treat your very own is the way to offer care. 

3.  We do not find placing blame on Jurnee Hoffmeyer is the best way to offer remorse and accountability. The way to move forward in authenticity, real meaningful progress and change, combat systemic racism, and hold school systems to task is by offering an apology, restitution, and viable solutions to ensure this type of situation never happens again. 

We will continue to support the Hoffmeyer family in seeking justice for Jurnee Hoffmeyer.  The Hoffmeyer family is unrelentingly pursuing whatever is within their Civil, Criminal, and Federal rights & legal abilities to pursue.  We have their backs! Along with that we petition the Biden Administration & Congress to pass and support the Crown Act Legislation that would ban hair discrimination on the federal level.  We believe this would be a timely response to what happened to Jurnee Hoffmeyer and multitudes of other children of color.   

If this nation is serious about combating and eradicating systemic racism,  the way we protect our children from it will be the greatest determining factor. 

 

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