MISSION, Texas (KVEO) — ACLU Texas is asking the Department of Education office for civil rights to investigate Sharyland ISD after the school district told a Latino and Native American student he needed to cut his hair.
The ACLU and Native American leaders say it is a violation of the student’s religious and cultural beliefs.
“People have a right, an inherent right, to their culture, they have an inherent right to their values and their traditions and to their stories,” Juan Mancias, the Katawan or tribal chair for the Carrizo/Comecrudo tribe said.
Mancias said Native Americans being asked to change who they are is nothing new and goes back to American Indian Boarding Schools from the 17th century.
The schools existed all over North America, “from Mexico all the way up into Canada,” Mancias said. They were “a way of deprogramming us, and it was the whole idea of ‘kill the Indian, save the man’,” Mancias said.
The Sharyland ISD dress code says boys cannot have their hair touching their collar but doesn’t have any rules for girls’ hair.
Lawyers for the ACLU Texas said that dress codes need to apply to everyone equally.
“Federal courts, including two federal courts recently here in Texas, have recently declared them (dress codes like Sharyland ISD’s) unconstitutional and to violate Title IX,” explained Brain Klosterboer, a staff attorney for ACLU Texas.
The ACLU’s complaint said the student has been in in-school suspension for a month. They are asking the Department of Education to force Sharyland to change the policy.
Klosterboer said that ACLU Texas acknowledges it would take time to change the policy, but “even today, immediately, the district can decide to stop enforcing it and to stop causing students harm.”
Mancias said the school policy is proof that more education is needed on Native American issues.
He said that hair length limits were “systemic racism that is based on them being comfortable and its on a comfort zone. And so we have to sacrifice our comfort so the colonial side can be comfortable.”
Klosterboer said if the Sharyland doesn’t change their policy there is a chance the Department of Education could pull federal funding for violating a student’s civil rights. He added that ACLU Texas hopes it doesn’t come to that.
Sharyland sent a statement to KVEO over the issue.
ACLU Texas said so far there hasn’t been a threat of a lawsuit, but last month they did sue a school district in the Houston area over a similar issue.
We reached out to speak to the family, but because there is a chance this could go to litigation, they were advised not to speak.