The father of a mixed race schoolgirl in Michigan whose hair was cut by a teacher without her parents’ permission has filed a $1m lawsuit against the school district, librarian and a teacher’s assistant.
Jimmy Hoffmeyer, the father of the girl Jurnee, filed the lawsuit in a federal court in Grand Rapids against Mount Pleasant Public Schools. Mr Hoffmeyer said his daughter was a victim of racial discrimination.
The lawsuit, filed on 14 September, also alleged that the girl’s constitutional rights were violated.
In March this year, a classmate of seven-year-old Jurnee cut her hair while they were on a school bus.
Mr Hoffmeyer complained to the principal of Ganiard Elementary and later took his daughter to a hair salon to fix Jurnee’s hair. Two days later, Jurnee’s library teacher cut off her remaining hair with the help of another teacher’s assistant, the lawsuit states.
At that time, the father said: “She was crying. She was afraid of getting in trouble for getting her hair cut. I asked what happened and said ‘I thought I told you no child should ever cut your hair’. She said: ‘But dad, it was the teacher’. The teacher cut her hair to even it out.”
The lawsuit has named the Mount Pleasant Public Schools, librarian Kelly Mogg, and teacher assistant Kristen Jacobs as defendants, MLive reported.
The lawsuit said the child’s hair was cut “without permission from Jurnee or her parents”. It noted that the “defendants failed to properly train, monitor, direct, discipline, and supervise their employees, and knew or should have known that the employees would engage in the complained-of behaviour given the improper training, customs, procedures, and policies, and the lack of discipline that existed for employees”.
The lawsuit added that the defendants’ conduct amounted to “deliberate indifference” and was “obdurate” or “wanton”.
Meanwhile, on 2 July, the Mount Pleasant Public Schools Board of Education announced a third-party investigation into the incident and concluded that the librarian, Ms Mogg, did not act with racial bias and thus could keep her job.
The board said “the third-party independent investigation included interviews with and feedback from district personnel, students, families as well as a review of video and photographic evidence including social media posts”.
It also noted that their decisions and actions were unacceptable and showed a major lack of judgement. “The employees involved have acknowledged their wrong actions and apologised,” it said.
Mr Hoffmeyer said that the school district never spoke to him or Jurnee.
Earlier in the year, Bernita Bradley, the National Parents Union’s midwest delegate, had said that the incident was a “modern-day scalping” and that it was motivated by race. She had said at the time: “It equates to the fact that you don’t like something that naturally grows out of my body and to ostracise me, you scalp me.”
Jurnee was taken out of the school by her father and now attends a different school.
The school district has not yet responded to the lawsuit.
According to the US Census, about four per cent of Mount Pleasant’s 25,000 residents are Black.
Meanwhile, Ingham County in the state passed a resolution to become the first in Michigan to ban hair discrimination against public employees.
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