Religion and Spirituality

Native American Family Fights Against Hair Length Rules

I was sitting in the library the other day, felt the urge to read an actual, ink-on-paper version of The Houston Chronicle and came across a story about boy who is being disallowed from being enrolled in Needville ISD because of his long hair, which is associated with his family’s Native American religious beliefs. More recently, the Needville ISD board voted unanimously to stand by the district administrator’s decision to ban him.

What do you think?

Honestly, I don’t see what the problem is regarding his hair. More than anything, it’s the rule that’s being enforced that I have a problem with. How could his long hair possibly cause a larger disruption that the school district is causing by disallowing it? School dress codes in general have always been a bit of a foreign concept to me, but Needville ISD’s dress code is especially odd to me. I suppose that never having an honest-to-goodness dress code affected me that way.

But, more than anything, it makes the most sense in my mind to just throw away the entire code and let everyone wear whatever they want. School districts should certainly allow people to practice their religions, but more importantly they should treat all students equally. As Austin Cline puts it,

It’s not legal to give one religious exemption to a rule while denying other religions an exemption. It’s also not legal to give a religious exemption to a rule while denying any non-religious exemptions. Both actions impermissibly favor one religion over others or favor religion over non-religion.

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  1. Joy Wang
    July 18, 2008 at 2:22 pm —

    I think it’s just plain stupid that this school district’s giving these parents grief over the length of a kid’s hair. I mean, I can’t see how this would be potentially disruptive to classes. I realize that there are some basic regulations against clothing that promotes drugs, alcohol, etc. and no indecent clothing (belly shirts, short shorts, that kind of thing) that are fairly rational (That’s basically what our district’s dress code is and I really can’t see much of a problem with our dress code). But their school dress code is just waay over the top (no logos except the NISD logo, no sequins except for a 2″ square? wtf? That’s just obscene.). If they wanted to take the case to court, I’m pretty sure they could get somewhere with the freedom of religion thing, though, unless the school district hasn’t given any religious exemptions ever, which is probably unlikely.


  2. Amanda
    July 18, 2008 at 2:49 pm —

    Ignoring the freedom of religion part, it’s just plain racist.

    And it’s *just hair.* What is this, the 1950’s when men with long hair = immoral gay criminals?

  3. July 18, 2008 at 3:05 pm —

    It’s fascism. It’s the same kind of crap they tried to pull on me when I was in school, and I wouldn’t put up with it, neither should they. To Hell with the religion exception bullcrap, the fact that males and females have different dress codes is illegal, immoral, and pisses me off more than I can even begin to articulate.

  4. vreify
    July 18, 2008 at 5:02 pm —

    The Needville HS code has some of the worst rules I’ve heard of–no highlights unless they’re blonde, no make-up for boys or for 5th and 6th graders, and no writing or pictures on the body at anytime. The only time I’ve heard worse is when the school is religiously affiliated.

    And how are they going to enforce the rule “proper undergarments must be worn,” and what does ‘proper’ even constitute? What if a girl stuffs her bra? Is that a dress code violation?

    Anyway, this I find most appalling: “The District’s dress code is established to teach hygiene, instill discipline, prevent disruption, avoid safety hazards, and *assert authority*.”

    1. Making everyone cover their cleavage will not make the boys more disciplined when they finally see it.
    2. So they admit the dress code is just a power trip for them? Wow.

  5. July 18, 2008 at 7:20 pm —

    Now that this situation has gotten as far as it has I imagine that if this boy is eventually allowed to attend NISD he’ll have to deal with the students harassing him over his hair. I’m thinking of that incident in Delaware where a Jewish kid was being harassed by students and some of the adults were encouraging that behavior (“if he wants the harassment to stop then he needs to convert to Christianity”, one of the adults said). How about instead of a dress code this school tries teaching it’s students that people can choose to dress like they wish and no matter how much it offends you you’re just going to have to learn to live with it. It seems to me that such a lesson would be far more useful in the world we actually live in. “Preventing disruption”… Hah. What are the chances that school principles in Arkansas said the same thing back before desegregation? I’m with Rystefn, this is fascism.

  6. July 18, 2008 at 7:23 pm —

    Should have typed Texas there and not Arkansas… but you get the idea.

  7. Joy Wang
    July 18, 2008 at 7:34 pm —

    I see your point about people learning to live with various differences amongst their peers, and I think that having waist length hair wouldn’t be disruptive at all, unless the students harass him, in which case school admin. should put a stop to it. That’s significantly different from wearing clothing with drug paraphernalia on it. The former is just fine, I personally don’t believe that the latter is. Just a clarification on my stance about this entire thing.

  8. July 18, 2008 at 10:06 pm —

    No worries Joy Wang, when I said “Preventing disruption” I was referring to what the school administration had said, not to your earlier comment. I can agree with you on the point that there are certain potentially disruptive things that the administration could legitimately ban. For example, in my high school it was specifically illegal to have any KKK paraphernalia either in your locker or on your person. And it isn’t hard to imagine how someone walking down the hall with a ‘White Power’ t-shirt on could be disruptive to other students. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly where I would draw the line as far as what is acceptable to have on your shirt goes, but the length of some boy’s hair is obviously of no concern to me. It looks like his hair is proportionally about as long as mine is at any rate. 🙂

  9. July 19, 2008 at 3:24 am —

    When I was in high school, same as now, my hair was waist-length, The closest thing to disruptive it ever got was when chicks sitting behind me wanted to bush/braid/whatever it, and how that could possibly be construed as more disruptive than when they did the same with each others’ hair is beyond me.

    Sometimes I wonder if I had been able to claim religion, would I have been on the news about it…

  10. waltdakind
    July 19, 2008 at 9:36 am —

    I personally don’t care what people wear to school in general and wore long hair for a couple of years in high school. I think this dress code is stupid, but I am far more appalled by the disregard for this student’s religious freedom than the idea that allowing a religious exemption unfairly grants special privilege.

    This child wearing his hair long as part of Apache religious belief coming from a tradition where this is uniformly practiced. Allowing students to follow religious traditions while disallowing long-hair-as-a-fashion-statement is not “impermissibly favor(ing) one religion over others or favor(ing) religion over non-religion..”

    Austin Cline makes no differentiation between a Christian teen wanting to wear a “FBI: Firm Believer In Christ” tee-shirt and some Muslim teens wearing hajib. The hajib wearing teens are actually following an established practice of their faith while the tee-shirt wearer is not a member of a religious tradition that requires its adherents to wear tee-shirts.

    Regardless of any dress codes violation, the FBI tee-shirt wearer should have been sent home for failure to form a proper acronym!

  11. MaggieMoo
    July 19, 2008 at 12:49 pm —

    I’m so glad i don’t go to this school! Their dress code is WACK! i mean….its just some hair. And the dress of students doesn’t really help with discipline. speaking as an up and coming junior in high school. I mean, I’m more distracted by what posters teachers have on their wall than what someone is wearing or how their hair looks. Oh! an the no piercing except for the ears rule is just stupid. I mean, I know quite a lot of girls who get a nose piercing for religious reason. I’m glad that my pink-haired self isn’t going to this uptight fascist school 😀

  12. SteveT
    July 19, 2008 at 9:18 pm —

    MaggieMoo, could you please explain the “nose piercing for religous reason” comment? Perhaps I am simply displaying my advanced state of decrepitude here, but I am unaware of any trend like this. Please instruct you elders in this new concept.

    Wait a sec while I turn up my hearing aid…

  13. Joy Wang
    July 20, 2008 at 1:44 pm —

    Well, <some Hindus and Native Americans do get nose piercings for religious reasons. I’m sure if I wasn’t too lazy to do more searching, I could find some more cultures that have similar practices.

  14. MaggieMoo
    July 20, 2008 at 5:52 pm —

    After my extensive research, (basically asking about eight people who had them) girls get a small nose piercing to show that they have ‘entered womanhood’ to put it politely.

  15. Dread Polack
    July 21, 2008 at 1:36 pm —

    Nice to be among fellow long-hairs! Rystefn- ah yes, I graduated high school with the longest hair in the school- among students and faculty. I also got the “best hair” award in the yearbook! Now I have dreadlocks just past the shoulders. I haven’t had a real haircut in about 15 years.

    But anyway- I remember hearing things like this when I was a kid. Sad to see it’s still going on. In this case it’s clearly a case of *asserting authority*. It’s been my experience that schools are very serious about never bowing to a student, no matter what. They believe that giving an inch will lead to all-out rebellion. It’s a lot like a prison in that sense. Demoralization is key to keeping a population that outnumbers you so greatly.

    Ironically, multi-colored hair, mohawks and other bizarre do’s were common in my HS and none of the faculty cared.

    I’m not in favor of uniforms, and I am certainly opposed to laws forcing women to cover up, but there can be some serious “sensory overload,” especially in the summer, when hormone-ridden teens are trying to do math problems and can’t look away from each other. It’s a fine line, and one I left behind me 10 years ago.

  16. July 24, 2008 at 11:40 am —

    Yeah, this is infuriating. I have to blog about this when I get home, because this school needs to be ridiculed as much as possible. I hope they notice all the inbound links!

    Here’s something I found:

    • All sweaters, sweatshirts, jackets, and coats must be worn completely unzipped or unbuttoned.

    • All Jackets or coats must button or zip in the front.

    What the F??

  17. MaggieMoo
    July 24, 2008 at 12:49 pm —

    Jason, I think they did that just to F with the students minds! they were thinking
    “BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA We shall have them both zip and unzip their jackets!! They will quake with confusion!! BWAHHAHAHA”…or something like that anyway

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