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A Kansas school board has voted unanimously to rescind a dress code policy that forced an eight-year-old Native American to cut his hair to attend school. 

Last week, The Girard School District Board of Education removed a district dress code policy that stipulates boys’ hair cannot “touch the collar of a crew neck t-shirt … or extend below the earlobes.” 

The vote came after school administrators violated an eight-year-old Native American boy’s cultural and religious freedoms this September when they required him to cut his long hair to conform to school policy.

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The boy, a member of the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma, had been growing his hair for more than a year after seeing tribal men wear their hair long at the Nation’s annual gathering of the Little Turtles, according to the letter the ACLU sent Girard School District administrators on November 17. The boy was attending Haderlein Elementary School in Girard, Kansas. 

The boy’s mother learned of the school’s “Boy’s hair length” policy in August 2023 and visited the school the following month to request an exemption for her son “because of his Native American heritage and spiritual beliefs,” according to the ACLU. The school’s policy forbids boys, but not girls, from wearing their hair long. 

On September 23, 2023, Haderlein Elementary School Assistant Principal Joni Benso emailed the student’s mother, informing her that if her child’s hair was not cut by the following Monday, “he would be sent home.”   

According to the ACLU, after seeking a religious exemption to the policy and attempting to contact the district supervisor, the boy’s mother cut his hair out of fear that her son would be suspended.  

The ACLU released a statement on Friday stating the school board took the correct action in updating the dress code policy. 

 “Sex-based appearance codes reflect and reinforce harmful sex stereotypes, disproportionately discriminate against students of color — in particular by imposing cultural and religious harm, and have nothing to do with a student’s ability to learn,” the statement read.

“Corrective action such as this is part of how we move forward from that painful legacy. Kansas schools should proactively review their policies to ensure no other child is forced to cut his hair to attend school again.”

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