A young Native American student in Utah is back in class after school staff sent him to the office claiming his Mohawk hairstyle violated school policy.
“They wanted Kobe to come home until we cut his hair,” Gary Sanden, the father of 7-year-old Jakobe Sanden, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “That’s who he is. That’s part of his culture.”
Gary Sanden is a member of the Seneca Nation and his wife, Teyawwna Sanden, is a member of the Kaibab Band of Paiutes Indians, Fox 13 reported.
Their son was kicked out of his second-grade class at Arrowhead Elementary School in the city of Santa Clara on Monday after showing up sporting the haircut he got the previous Friday. Administrators called Jakobe’s parents to tell them the boy’s hairstyle violated school policy and he needed to change it, Gary Sanden told The Washington Post.
The school’s online handbook does not mention any specific hairstyles, The Post pointed out, but simply states that “extremes in body piercings, hair styles and hair colors may be considered a distraction or disruption.”
“We had the students that weren’t used to it,” Arrowhead Principal Susan Harrah told Fox 13. “They had called that out. So the teacher brought the student to my attention.”
School officials initially asked Teyawwna Sanden to pick up her son and change his hair, Gary Sanden told news station WFAA. Both parents offered to bring in their tribal membership cards to prove their heritage, but the school said they needed documentation from a tribal leader.
The couple got Seneca Nation Councillor William Canella to write to the superintendent.
“It is common for Seneca boys to wear a Mohawk because after years of discrimination and oppression, they are proud to share who they are,” Canella wrote.
The boy was never sent home or suspended, Assistant Principal Rex Wilkey told the Washington Post. Principal Harrah told the Tribune she felt the school handled the manner respectfully and efficiently, noting, “It took about a half hour of my time.”
But Gary Sanden said the school’s handling of the situation felt discriminatory and having Jakobe spend part of the day in the principal’s office over his hairstyle was bad enough.
“To ostracize him like that — that’s stuff from the ‘50s,” Sanden told the Tribune.