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Father of girl whose hair was cut at mid-Michigan school sues district in federal court

Jimmy Hoffmeyer
A lawyer for Jurnee Hoffmeyer's family alleges that haircut by staff at her elementary school earlier this year violated her civil rights.

The father of a biracial girl whose hair was cut by staff at her elementary school has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the district.

Jimmy Hoffmeyer says in court papers filed in Michigan’s western district that Mount Pleasant Public Schools violated his daughter’s civil rights.

Hoffmeyer’s daughter, Jurnee, was 7 when a school library worker cut her hair during the school day.

In the school district’s account of the incident, Jurnee asked her teacher for a haircut. Jurnee’s family has disputed that, and their attorney, Shawndrica Simmons, said even if Jurnee did ask, the school staffers should have known better.

“Jurnee’s 7. Jurnee doesn’t get to ask for haircuts from adults. Simple as that,” Simmons said.

The suit alleges that the haircut was racially motivated. Simmons said it’s clear that Jurnee’s curly hair was viewed as a problem by white faculty.

“Jurnee’s a biracial child with long, flowing curls -- who had long, flowing curls,” Simmons said, emphasizing the past-tense verb. “We can’t even fathom what motivated the librarian and teacher assistant to cut her hair in the first place, other than some type of bias and prejudice.”

Simmons said they tried to avoid litigation with the district, but Mount Pleasant Public Schools would not acknowledge any fault.

The district said an independent investigation showed the haircut was not motivated by bias. That probe found the staffer who cut Jurnee’s hair, and two others who knew about the haircut but did not report it, had “good intentions,” but their actions were unacceptable and showed “a major lack of judgement.”

In an emailed statement, school board chair Amy Bond called the Hoffmeyers’ accusations “baseless” and said the district’s response to the haircut was -- quote -- “appropriate and aggressive.”

“We are confident that the facts will prevail,” Bond said.

Brett joined WCMU in February, 2021, as a general assignment reporter. He was previously the health reporter at WXXI Public Broadcasting in Rochester, N.Y., and has filed stories for National Public Radio, IEEE Spectrum, The Village Voice and other outlets.