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Mom Makes Federal Case Out of Latest Student Hairstyle Rights Fight

Posted Jan 28, 2010 3:20 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Headlines about school district battles over student hairstyles are now focusing on Ohio, where a mother of an 11-year-old boy says he was publicly humiliated by a teacher and a classroom aide and has filed a federal lawsuit over their alleged "gender-based harassment" of the boy.

When the unidentified boy was younger, some children teased him about his professionally styled, apparently shoulder-length hair. At that point, his mother, Amanda Anoai, says she told her son to toughen up or cut his hair, reports the Associated Press.

But when her son told her that the teacher and the aide had made him stand at the front of his sixth-grade classroom, put his hair in ponytails, and then introduced him to students there as new female student—before the aide walked him to other classrooms and performed similar introductions there—this was "a totally different story," Anoai says.

Her federal lawsuit, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, seeks unspecified damages for the alleged violation of her son's constitutional rights and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The news agency unsuccessfully requested comment from the defendants. They are: a teacher, an aide and a principal at the Milford, Ohio, elementary school, as well as the Milford Exempted Village School District and its superintendent.

Meanwhile, it appears that an earlier high-profile controversy in Texas over the length of a preschooler's hair that resulted in his being separated from the rest of his class for months may be resolved without such litigation.

Although the ponytail that 4-year-old Taylor Pugh attempted to wear, as a compromise, still violated a Mesquite Independent School District dress code requiring boys to have hairstyles that don't go below their collars, according to the WXAS, a later effort by his mother to send him to school with his hair in French braids was deemed to satisfy the standard.

"He looks a little like Princess Leia," the boy's mother, Elizabeth Taylor, told the Dallas Morning News earlier this month after her son was accepted back into his preschool classroom due to the compromise coiffure. Putting his hair up in the braids initially took her an hour, she says, but she hopes she will become faster with practice.

In a subsequent opinion column earlier this week, the newspaper suggests that young children might be better served if adults restricted such hairstyle battles to more important issues, such as school segregation.

"The celebrated case of the Mesquite Hair Boy is not Brown vs. Board of Education," writes Jacquielynn Floyd. "Let the grown-ups keep up the fight, if they like. Taylor has pre-K business to attend to."

A federal judge ruled last year in another Texas court case over a kindergartener's hair that the Needville Independent School District violated the 5-year-old's constitutional rights by requiring him to conceal his braids and isolating him in special classes when he didn't.

In that case, however, the child's hair length implicated his religious rights as a Native American.

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