Parents claim private school discriminates: Boy, 5, asked to leave Belmont class because of haircut

Original article appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal.

By Samantha Weigel

A Belmont Catholic school has been accused of racial discrimination after a 5-year-old black student was asked to leave class for sporting a new haircut, prompting his family to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Jalyn Broussard had recently started kindergarten at the Immaculate Heart of Mary School when he chose a new hairstyle that’s popular among respectable black men — it’s called a “modern fade” where the hair is longer in the middle and shorter on the sides, said Kimberly Thomas Rapp, executive director of the Layers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which filed the complaint on behalf of the Broussards.

But when the kindergartner returned to school Dec. 18, his mother received a call from staff saying she had to retrieve her son because his haircut was outside of the school’s hairstyle policy and could unduly influence the student body, according to the complaint.

“We’re supposed to be partners in education,” said mom Marianna Broussard. “My main concern was just their defining this policy and the way they’re enforcing it is not culturally inclusive.”

Ultimately, Jalyn Broussard was allowed to finish off the day at the behest of his mother who quickly shaved his head so he could attend a Christmas function the following evening. However, the Broussards say the school did not equally enforce the policy as at least three other students — two Caucasians and one Asian — were permitted to wear more extreme Mohawk, faux hawk or spiked hairstyles.

“It is about the fact that the school simply targeted Jalyn who’s a young, African-American student wearing this popular hairstyle,” Thomas Rapp said. “I think there needs to be a modification of the policy to take into account cultural differences and then be some substantive training for school staff so as not to act in a biased manner against young African-American children. Because for Jalyn to be asked to leave the school, to leave class and not to come back until his hair was cut, was unfair and a discriminatory act.”

The Immaculate Heart of Mary School, which falls under the umbrella of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, has a clear hairstyle policy that all parents must sign before enrolling their children, said Archdiocese spokesman Larry Kamer. While unable to comment on the specific allegations in the complaint, Kamer said the school and Archdiocese takes the matter very seriously.

“Teaching respect for individuals, teaching respect for diversity, respect for the whole person, these are kind of bedrock values at IHM and other Catholic schools. So any time someone raises a concern that they may not have been treated in accordance with those values, that’s a situation we take seriously,” Kamer said. “So we are taking this very seriously and trying to figure out the nature of the complaint and what happened.”

Marianna Broussard, who had her other son Noah Broussard in the second-grade at the time, said she’s since removed both of her children from Immaculate Heart of Mary School and they are doing well at the nearby Fox Elementary School.

Marianna Broussard said her concern grew as she attempted to communicate with the school’s Principal Terri Grosey about why her son’s haircut was being singled out when other students of different ethnicities were given leeway.

“It became a discrimination issue to me when after the initial incident when we cut his hair, then another child came to school with a very similar haircut and instead of saying ‘we’re going to use the same action, apply the same rule,’ they justified it and said ‘no, it’s a modern crew cut,’” Broussard said.

The committee filed the complaint with the Office for Civil Rights requesting the school reimburse the Broussards for their two sons’ fall tuition, which amounts to about $8,000, be absolved from having to pay the spring tuition and require the school to institute cultural sensitivity training to employees.

Marianna Broussard alleges she tried on multiple occasions to talk with Grosey in an attempt to make sure the school’s hair policy was equitable and wasn’t applied discriminatorily based on the texture of her son’s hair. But after seeing other children being permitted to have similar haircuts without consequence, the concerned Belmont mother said she felt it best to leave the private institution. Grosey referred questions about the incident to the Archdiocese.

Now 6 years old, Jalyn Broussard is doing well at his new school, but it wasn’t easy for him to be singled out at the Catholic school then readjust to a new academic environment midyear, Marianna Broussard said.

“He was ostracized that day at school, he was really singled out and was very well aware that he wasn’t allowed to be there because of his haircut and how he looked and I think what it ended up seeming like, was that it was because he was African-American, and he’s just one out of five at the school,” Marianna Broussard said. “If we can’t have a productive discussion about appearances, what if a discussion about academics comes up? What are the double standards we don’t see or can’t be explained to us because they’re kids?”