Five Year-Old Boy’s Hairstyle Leads to Race Discrimination Complaint Filed with Office for Civil Rights

Belmont parochial school engages in disparate treatment based on unequal enforcement of hairstyle policy

For Immediate Release: June 25, 2015

Media Contact: Candice Francis, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, 415-543-9697 x216, cfrancis@lccr.com

(San Francisco, CA) – Citing violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR) filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) asking them to investigate the discriminatory treatment of Jalyn Broussard by the Immaculate Heart of Mary School (IHM) in Belmont, CA, and accept jurisdiction over this complaint.

On a December morning in 2014 when Marianna Broussard sent her five year old son, Jalyn, to school with a fresh haircut, known in the African American community as a “modern fade” (see photo), she never dreamed he would be accused of defying the school’s hairstyle policy. Yet, just thirty minutes after dropping him off, the school called for Jalyn to be picked up immediately and not return until his hair was cut, contending that his hairstyle was “extreme” and “distracting” to the learning environment.

According to school administrators, Jalyn’s haircut was not a fade but a “faux hawk”, which would lead the 5 year old to “…unduly influence the student body.” At his mother’s request, the school begrudgingly allowed Jalyn to finish the school day, but reiterated that he would not be allowed to return unless he conformed to a hairstyle policy that was both discriminatory and exclusionary of cultural differences in appearance.

“I made several attempts to get clarification on the hairstyle policy because my son’s haircut was nothing like a ‘faux hawk’, said Mrs. Broussard. “I also pointed out that there were several white and Asian-American students who had haircuts much more similar to a ‘hawk’ style, but none of them had been reprimanded or asked to leave school or restyle their hair.”

In fact, one student with spiked hair matching the description of what is NOT allowed under the aforementioned hairstyle policy, was allowed to fully participate in school activities including reading at mass.

“This is a clear cut case of discrimination based on race,” says Jennifer Weiser Bezoza, LCCR’s Director of Education Advocacy. “Jalyn Broussard was treated differently than other students for no reason. Furthermore, no consideration was ever shown for the fact that, as an African American, Jalyn’s hair texture differs from that of his white and Asian peers, which necessitates a difference in cutting and styling. By targeting and isolating him because of his hair texture, IHM caused him severe emotional harm and distress.”

After several unsuccessful attempts to engage in meaningful dialogue with school administrators about a policy that was being unequally enforced, the Broussards chose to withdraw their children from IHM. They are now seeking relief in the form of tuition reimbursement and the implementation of policies that will ameliorate future discriminatory practices at the school.

See complaint here.

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