Belmont: Kindergartner's haircut distracting, Catholic school says

Original article appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.

By sharon noguchi

BELMONT — Five-year-old Jalyn Broussard was so excited to show his kindergarten classmates his new haircut, a style that would surely set him apart from his second-grade brother’s shaved head.

But his “modern fade,” a popular hairstyle among African-American men, apparently set off an alarm with administrators at the boy’s Catholic school, who called Jalyn’s mom half an hour into the school day to pick him up and take him home. Mariana Broussard said the school’s principal told her Jalyn’s haircut was too distracting and a violation of Immaculate Heart of Mary School’s hairstyle policy, according to a complaint the family filed last week with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Broussard said Principal Teri Grosey told her the haircut — which the family noticed on white and Asian students — would “unduly influence the student body.”
Broussard was incredulous. The hair on top of Jalyn’s head was less than half an inch longer than his tapered, closely cropped sides. “How is he going to be an undue influence,” she asked, “my little kindergartner?”
After weeks of unproductive talks with Immaculate Heart, the family last week filed the complaint, alleging that the school discriminated against Jalyn, who is African-American, based on his race.
Grosey did not respond to a reporter’s phone calls. The Archdiocese of San Francisco refused to comment because it has not seen the complaint, spokesman Larry Kamer said. But he added, “School policy on hairstyles is very explicit and clear. Parents acknowledge and accept that policy.”
Broussard said the Rev. Stephen H. Howell, the parish pastor, told her to “have faith” and give the matter time to resolve.
The attorney representing the family provided the newspaper a photo of Jalyn’s December haircut, which the newspaper forwarded to the school and Kamer. Neither commented on the photo.
Broussard said she tried to do that for a month after the school objected to Jalyn’s haircut in December. At first, she sheared her son’s head so that he could participate in the next day’s Christmas pageant. Then she sat down with Grosey and brought a photo of Michael Strahan, the talk-show host and former football star who wears the same cut. She pointed out the difference between Jalyn’s modern fade cut and the more extreme “faux hawk” that Immaculate Heart specifically bans. And she said she showed the principal photos of other Immaculate Heart students sporting modern fade cuts.
Jalyn himself felt embarrassed and unfairly singled out, his mother said. “He knew exactly what it was about — because of how his hair as an African-American looked,” Broussard said. “It was difficult.”
The school’s hairstyle policy doesn’t account for cultural differences, said Jennifer Bezoza, an attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is representing Jalyn. Students with different hair textures, she alleged, are being treated differently.
The school refused to budge, said Broussard, a pharmaceutical sales representative. “It was surprising to me they really dug their heels in.”
Early this year, Mariana and Errol Broussard pulled both of their sons out of the Catholic school and sent them to their neighborhood public school, Fox Elementary in Belmont — where, their mother said, they’ve done fine. “This school is a little more culturally aware,” Broussard said.
The complaint seeks reimbursement for tuition for both children — about $16,000 total — cultural sensitivity training for the school staff and administration, and improvements in the school’s anti-discrimination policy, complaint process and discipline policy.
For his part, Jalyn likes his new school. He said he was sad to have to cut his hair in December, and sad again to leave Immaculate Heart and his friends. But now he has a big new playground — and he’s proud be sporting another “modern fade” cut.
“I think it looks good on me,” he said.