School cries foul on reaction to haircut decision

Original article appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

By Brendan P. Bartholomew

The parents of kindergarten student Jalyn Broussard say he faced discrimination in December from school officials who claimed his African-American hairstyle was “distracting.” But a spokesman for the school strongly denied the accusation, and said extensive media coverage of the issue is giving the public “the wrong idea” about the school.

Mariana Broussard said her son was excited to get his hair styled like that of athletes Jalyn admires. But when Jalyn showed up at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Belmont sporting his new look, Broussard said a school employee called and asked her to come pick him up.

Broussard said she was told her son’s haircut violated a school appearance code prohibiting the “faux hawk,” a variation of the “mohawk” hairstyle.
Immaculate Heart is operated by the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Spokesman Larry Kamer said his ability to comment on the matter is limited, because his organization has yet to receive official communication from the U.S. Department of Education about the case. In late June, the Broussards filed a complaint with the federal agency.

Kamer added that the school’s privacy guidelines prevent him from publicly discussing any student’s disciplinary matters.

The Archdiocese does, however, “very respectfully” dispute the allegation of racial bias, Kamer noted.

“IHM works very hard to create a community that values diversity and tolerance,” Kamer said, “The suggestion that they are anything other than that is very upsetting to them, and something we take very seriously.”

Jalyn’s haircut was not a faux hawk, Broussard contends, explaining that it was a “modern fade,” a variation on the classic “fade,” which leaves hair very short on the sides and slightly longer on top. “This is not an extreme hairstyle,” Broussard noted.

Broussard and her husband, Errol Broussard, responded to the school’s complaint by immediately shaving their son’s head so he would not be disciplined or excluded from the school’s Christmas music concert.

But when they met with Principal Teri Grosey and explained that Jalyn’s hairstyle was very similar to haircuts worn by white and Asian students at the school who had not been admonished, Broussard said the principal was not receptive.

The family appealed to the Archdiocese. But when the school remained intransigent, Broussard said she began to think about other disciplinary matters in which Jalyn and his older brother, Noah, seemed to have been singled out.

This eventually led to the Broussards withdrawing both boys earlier this year and enrolling them in nearby Fox Elementary, a public school that Mariana Broussard described as having a more diverse student body and more culturally competent staff.

The Broussards also retained civil rights attorney Jennifer Bezoza, who filed the complaint on the family’s behalf with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Bezoza said the complaint seeks some tuition reimbursement, diversity training for school staff, and changes to the school’s discipline and anti-discrimination policies.

A flurry of local media attention ensued, and the story was picked up by national and international websites including The Daily Mail, The Daily Beast and Raw Story.

This is not the first time a dispute about a student’s African-American hairstyle has made headlines. In 2013, 7-year-old Tiana Parker received national attention after being sent home from Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa, Okla., where officials said her dreadlocks were “distracting.”

Also in 2013, 12-year-old Vanessa VanDyke was thrust into the spotlight when Faith Christian Academy in Orlando, Fla., said she would have to give up her “natural hairstyle” or leave the school. The reason reportedly given by school administrators was that VanDyke’s hair was “a distraction.”