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Dress code collides with culture as Native American student with mohawk sent to principal’s office

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ST. GEORGE, Utah - A 2nd grade boy’s new haircut landed him in the principal’s office this week. The school said his mohawk violates dress code standards; his parents argued it's part of their family’s Native American culture.

Teyawwna Sanden says she was shocked to get a phone call from Arrowhead Elementary School saying her son Kobe’s mohawk wasn’t allowed.

Sanden is a member of the Kaibab Band of Paiutes Indians, and her husband is a member of the Seneca Tribe.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Sanden said. “He just got his hair cut on Friday, so I wasn’t expecting it.”

Sanden said principal Susan Harrah asked her to pick Kobe up and get his hair cut. Sanden’s initial reaction was to take Kobe out of school.

The Washington County School District’s dress code policy states: “Students have the responsibility to avoid grooming that causes a distraction or disruption, interrupting school decorum and adversely affecting the educational process.”

Harrah said that’s what happened when Kobe showed up to class.

“We had the students that weren’t used to it,” Harrah said. “They had called that out. So the teacher brought the student to my attention.”

Sanden and her husband decided to challenge the decision. They appealed to the superintendent of primary education, saying the mohawk represented a significant part of their heritage, the superintendent, in turn, asked for letters from tribal leaders supporting the claim. Harrah said it wasn’t meant to question their heritage, but a way to follow through with policy.

“It’s just a procedure that we use,” Harrah said. "As there could be several different cultures that have different beliefs, so we just need to have some documentation.”

But Sanden says it was a confusing request.

“I’m sure they didn’t intend it to be, but if felt like a form of discrimination,” Sanden said. “We didn’t want to take it there. We provided the papers, but we didn’t feel like it was right to let it go.”

With the documentation, Kobe was allowed to return to class. But Sanden said her frustration goes deeper. She said the policy as it stands is too vague, leaving it open to interpretation. Harrah said the way the policy stands allows administrators to make exceptions.

“It was a positive experience I think for all of us, I felt like, and the student went back to class, and it was over,” said Harrah.

Still, Sanden says she intends to take her concerns to the school board and seek a policy change.

16 comments

  • Ted Guzman

    Ugg why is everyone so offended by everything? and why is this news? This is so getting out of hand…Just because you don’t think the way I do, that means that it is wrong…I’m really just shaking my head at all of this…

    • Barbara E Leon

      So drop out of school, because you were sent home over a petty haircut. Obviously , your time is worth more than a groveling instructor that has a “Grudge” against this young man in some way. If he didn’t have a Mohawk, they send him home for eating burritos. That is how Utah flies anymore i suppose. Every town has that that one person. lol

  • Lisa

    Seems to me that this is no different from allowing the young Sikh boys to wear their head coverings or allowing young Muslim girls to wear their head coverings. Why is it that other cultural and religious beliefs are praised and encouraged to be different while a Native American boy is criticized and punished for the same?

  • Ann Hayden

    My son has 3 different tribes in him and has a ponytail much longer than mine. No one ever complained about his hair and the girls in the high school used to try to braid it in class. In middle school I did have a teacher tell me he needed his bangs cut, I just just told as long as he keeps his hair clean I don’t care what his hair looks like.

    • Finding ...

      I fully understand this. I suffered severe bulling because I have a “rat tail” when I was in middle school. And the school did nothing to stop it even though I complained multiple times.

  • Andrew Bush

    Has anyone else noticed that these religious extremist white towns, cities and counties are going after peoples kids? Its disgusting the tactics these so called “christians” have resorted to. Here in Washington States the tea party senators have actually made a law to charge all teenagers in the state with felonies if they have any weed on them….

    Will these extremists go after YOUR children and grandchildren next?

    • The Lady from Yakima

      Hey, when the Republcans ran Oregon, they reduced marijuana to a $100 ticket. Then the Democrats, led by the crazy house speaker from Portland made it a felony again.

      Puritanism has nothing to do with religion or side of the political spectrum. Democrats for years have joined in or even led movements to suppress alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and whatever else comes to their attention. Hell, in California the Democrats want to tax soda pop for health reasons – but have no intention of raising the taxes on alcohol to the same high level. Poor people drink soda pop; rich people drink Grey Goose and high end wines. It’s pretty clear that the real motive is the bizarre idea that poor people aren’t intelligent enough to make their own decisions. This becomes really clear when one notes that any drink that contains 10% or more juice would not be taxed – even though blends are essentially soda pop, and in fact, grape juice and apple juice aren’t any better than soda.

  • roger

    of all the things a school can do to a young person and worse Is isolation of any kind. it may seem inane to adults but that young child will remember this day his whole life.. Now why is a school that has a Indian based name even question a native American’s heritage and hairstyle for one/ secondly who in their right mind would ask tribal leaders to write letter to say that hairstyle is part of their culture./ isn’t this discrimination? haven’t the native American’s suffered enough?…. it saddens me that a country’s whos whole history is stood upon a genocide of the Indians who were here before any Anglo-Saxon. why does our American culture now worry about everyone else’s feeling except for the individual who is being accused of disrupting others lives? last but not least why did the reporter not ask these questions to the administration of this school board and their regents?

  • susan

    Who cares how he wears his hair? Why is this even in the schools dress code? How is this hair style a distraction to other students? Really??? The schools should worry more about actually teaching students than how they cut their hair.

  • mother

    goodness, i guess we cannot have a manly looking child in school in 2015—-i actually think the little boy is adorable—-my son has been an educator for 10 years and if he ever does anything this STUPID, i will gladly be the first to let him know—–totally bizarre story

  • AJ

    ““We had the students that weren’t used to it. They had called that out. So the teacher brought the student to my attention.”

    What if there is a student with a deformity – like missing an arm? What if there is a student with Down’s Syndrome? Students may not be used to that. Seriously, educators think before you act. You’re the ones that are supposed to set an example. While most educators are doing just that, there are some (as in the case here), who are totally clueless and are a detriment to the education of our students.

  • Sandra

    United states supreme court ruled this to be illegal. If this is a public school then they do not have the right nor the authority to discipline a student for hair style or color as it is an extension of who and how they represent themselves. Google it

  • Finding ...

    This is ridiculous. How a person does their hair does not distract from the educational process. Children tend to quickly accept things they might not understand. I believe this policy is based on discrimination against cultural groups. People that are EMO might dye their hair purple. Does not mean it is a distraction to the education process.

    Maybe the leaders of this school need to understand that children come in every shape, size, color, and hair style. I find this action to be discriminatory against students rights to being individuals.

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