ACLU Warns Classical Charter Schools that Short Hair Rule for Boys Discriminates Against Native American Students

March 20, 2023 3:34 pm

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LELAND, N.C. — According to a warning letter issued by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of North Carolina, officials at Classical Charter Schools of Leland appeared to violate state and federal constitutional and civil rights when they demanded a Native American first-grader cut his traditional hair style to conform to the school’s short hair rule for boys.

Ashley Lomboy, a member of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe, was told by the Classical Charter headmaster and lead administrator that her son Logan’s hair, worn long by Waccamaw Siouan men and boys for thousands of years, was “faddish” and must be cut. Ms. Lomboy had previously arranged Logan’s hair in a bun to meet the school’s written hair rules for boys but, as set forth in the letter, was informed this was insufficient because “we want them all to look the same.”

“Logan’s hair is an extension of who he is,” said Ashley Lomboy, mother of Classical Charter Schools first-grader Logan and member of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe. “Without his hair, he will lose part of himself and a critical aspect of his heritage. Native Americans have been wearing their hair long since time immemorial. The Waccamaw Siouan Tribe has and continues to steward the land Classical Charter Schools of Leland currently occupies and all the surrounding land of the Cape Fear Region for more than 1,000 years. The school’s dismissal of Logan’s identity and our tribal customs is needless, unfair, and deeply offensive to who we are and who our Tribe has always been.”

According to a letter sent by the ACLU and the ACLU of North Carolina, by demanding that Logan cut his hair in violation of his religious and cultural beliefs to follow its rule that boys (and only boys) wear their hair short, Classical Charter Schools of Leland, as a public charter school and recipient of federal education funds, appears to be in violation of the North Carolina Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Under the North Carolina Constitution, public schools must be open to all, and every student is afforded equal protection against discrimination,” said Samuel Davis, Liman Fellow at the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. “Classical Charter Schools cannot compel Logan to violate his foundational religious beliefs as a condition of receiving a public education.”

“Classical Charter Schools simply cannot justify this discriminatory policy,” said Liza Davis, Skadden Fellow at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “School policy allows girls to wear their hair long and attend school without discipline, yet they’re trying to force Logan and his family to reject his religious and cultural identity under the threat of discipline or even expulsion. Moreover, as a significant portion of the student body can wear long hair in accordance with secular justifications, it is simply wrong, and potentially unconstitutional, to subject Logan’s identical religious conduct to punishment.”

In a June 2022 ruling, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc found Classical Charter Schools of Leland (formerly known as Charter Day School) must abide by federal constitutional and civil rights law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. That challenge was brought by the ACLU and the ACLU of North Carolina on behalf of parents who objected to a uniform policy requiring girls to wear skirts as a condition of attending school.

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