The United States is grappling with systemic racism from healthcare to the job market, and children are often affected by discriminatory dress codes at school, including those that ban certain hairstyles. Earlier this year, one 7-year-old biracial girl in Michigan even had her hair cut by a school employee without her parents’ permission — and now her dad is fighting back to ensure that a situation like this never happens again.
Through attorneys Herbert A. Sanders and Shawndrica N. Simmons, Jimmy Hoffmeyer filed a $1 million lawsuit on behalf of daughter Jurnee Hoffmeyer in the Western District of Michigan on Tuesday, Sept. 14, alleging his daughter was the victim of racial discrimination, ethnic intimidation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault and battery. The suit names Mount Pleasant Public Schools, librarian Kelly Mogg and teacher assistant Kristen Jacobs as defendants.
“Jurnee’s Library Teacher, Ms. Mogg had cut off her remaining hair with the assistance and/or acquiescence of Ms. Jacobs,” the suit states, according to reporting by MLive.com. This was done without permission from Jurnee or her parents, according to the suit. “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 behavior given the improper training, customs, procedures, and policies, and the lack of discipline that existed for employees.”
As SheKnows reported earlier this year, 7-year-old Jurnee came home from school one day in March with a haircut. According to the Associated Press, Jimmy Hoffmeyer said that his daughter got off the school bus with the hair on one side of her head noticeably shorter than the other side. According to Jurnee, who is biracial, a white student on the bus had taken a pair of scissors to her hair on the way home from school.
Hoffmeyer complained to the school about what had happened to his daughter’s hair and took her to a salon to have it properly re-cut. But two days later Jurnee came home with even more of her hair cut off.
“She was crying,” Hoffmeyer told the AP. “She was afraid of getting in trouble for getting her hair cut.” Turns out, this time it wasn’t a student but a white employee who cut her hair. According to an April district letter addressed to families, “On Tuesday, March 23, a Ganiard Elementary student asked her friend who is also an elementary student to cut her hair at school. The friend removed scissors from a classroom without permission and cut a portion of the student’s hair while riding home on a public transportation bus. The next school day, the principal met with both students to discuss the incident. The student grew unhappy and dissatisfied with the way her hair looked after the other student cut it and asked a school library employee to help fix her hair during a classroom visit to the library.”
According to the AP, District Superintendent Jennifer Verleger confirmed the events Hoffmeyer laid out, and released a statement about the educators involved in the incident. “Regardless of their good intentions, these actions were unacceptable and show a lack of judgment on the part of our two employees,” Verleger said in her statement. ”Both are being reviewed for further disciplinary actions in accordance without school policies and procedures.”
As MLive reports, the school board said an independent investigation found no racial bias after considering interviews with district personnel, students and families and a review of video and photos, including posts on social media. District administrators also performed an internal review of the incident.
In a statement provided to SheKnows and other media outlets in response to the lawsuit, Mount Pleasant Public Schools Board of Education president Amy Bond said:
“The district has been made aware of recent media reports of a lawsuit that Jimmy Hoffmeyer has filed on behalf of his daughter. At this time, the district has not received service of the Complaint. We are confident that the facts will prevail given our district’s appropriate and aggressive response to the incident and the findings of the third-party investigation that was conducted. We will aggressively defend against these baseless allegations in court and will not allow this to distract us from our mission to provide every child a world-class education that prepares them for college and careers. Given the fact that this matter is now pending in the federal court, we will refrain from any further comment about this matter on the advice of our legal counsel.”
SheKnows has reached out to Mr. Hoffmeyer and his attorney Shawndrica N. Simmons for comment, but had not received a response at the time of publication. This story will be updated with new information if it becomes available.
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