On Monday, a 5-year-old Native American boy was sent home on his first day of school and ordered to cut his hair short because it allegedly violated district policy, the boy’s mother said.
The child, Malachi Wilson, an enrolled citizen of the Navajo Nation, had been looking forward to his first day of kindergarten at F.J. Young Elementary in Seminole, Texas.
“After we had enrolled him he was excited. He was ready to go. Everyday it was—the question, ‘Mom, [am I] going to school?’” his mother, April Wilson, told CBS-affiliate Channel 7.
But that notable day in a child’s life would not happen for Malachi. He was turned away by school officials and sent home.
School administrators required that April bring documentation from the Navajo Nation proving Malachi’s indigenous parentage. April immediately contacted the Navajo Nation and the document was delivered to school officials. Malachi was enrolled after the school approved of the document’s authenticity.
April also contacted the American Indian Movement.
“[The] American Indian Movement contacted the superintendent; they had told them that they were going to accept Malachi into school,” she said.
The school defended its actions by citing procedure and school policy. According to the school’s handbook, “certain recognized religious or spiritual beliefs may qualify from an exemption from provisions of the dress code. … Any exceptions to the dress code must receive prior approval by the campus administrator.”
“It’s kind of heartbreaking because how do you explain to a 5-year-old that he’s being turned away because of what he believes in? Because of his religion—because of what’s part of him,” April said. “Our hair is sacred to us.”
Social media was ablaze once the incident was made public.
“That story gets so much worse when you find out it happened in Seminole, TX, where students are called ‘Indians and Maidens,’” Twitter user Emily Lakdawalla wrote. The school’s mascot is an Indian and the school’s logo is of an Indian with feathers on his head.
Twitter user Aaron Yazzie, Navajo, wrote: “1st dress code rule states ‘clothing with offensive emblems’ prohibited. Shouldn’t that include Indian mascots?”
The Seminole Independent School district’s dress code rules, acquired by Colorlines.com, states “hairstyles or designs that are disruptive or distractive to the school environment are prohibited (i.e. Mohawks, rattails, dreadlocks, patterns or shavings in the hair, or spikes).
“I trim it. It grows back,” Malachi said.
Meanwhile, in Louisiana, a Rastafarian teenager was indefinitely suspended from a school there for having dreadlocks. The boy is now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union who argues that it’s Rastafarian mandate to keep one’s hair long and that the school, South Plaquemines School, is in violation of his religious freedom.
“We would object if the school were to tell a Christian student they could not wear a cross or if it were to permit the wearing of religious icons of one faith and prohibited those of another faith,” the ACLU said.
The Navajo Nation did not respond to ICTMN’s request for comment.
Here's the CBS 7 report: