Jalyn Broussard couldn’t wait to show off his new ‘do. The kindergartener got a haircut he saw on a basketball player and thought he looked pretty good: a “modern fade” that’s longer in the middle and shorter on the sides.
Even the principal chirped, “Nice haircut!” when he arrived at his Bay Area Catholic school. But a half-hour later, his teacher said his hairstyle violated policy and called his mother to pick him up.
Jalyn, who is African-American, couldn’t return to Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Belmont until his two-inch top was gone, the teacher said. His parents shaved his head that night so he could attend his Christmas concert.
“I thought I misheard when they told me to pick him up,” his mother, Mariana Broussard, told The Daily Beast of that fateful day in December. “It’s something that’s so small but it represents something larger. He had increased visibility to these teachers.”
Last week, Broussard filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for racial discrimination.
School administrators deemed his haircut “extreme” and “distracting,” but approved similar styles on white and Asian students, she argues. One eighth-grade student with spiky hair was allowed to read Mass in front of the entire school.
For weeks, Broussard sought answers on what would make Jalyn’s “modern fade” acceptable.
After Jalyn’s teacher called, Broussard says she quickly looked up the school’s policy. It states “extreme hairstyles, hair dye, highlights or extensions are not allowed.”
That includes “feathers, foils, tinsel, bling strands, hi-lites, faux hawks, tails and spiking.”
The mom then called Principal Teri Grosey and said she was surprised the administrator complimented her son’s haircut that morning and didn’t alert the family then.
Broussard argued Jalyn’s hair was “short, neat and tapered.” The principal replied that the middle length made his cut a “faux hawk,” but agreed to let Jalyn stay the remainder of the day, according to the complaint.
Grosey did not return requests for comment.
In the coming days, Broussard highlighted the potential double standard and, the complaint claims, Immaculate Heart “was unable to provide any non-discriminatory reason for its selective enforcement” of the hairdo policy against Jalyn.
Broussard says she showed Grosey pictures of African-American professionals with the ‘do— including an image of Kelly Ripa’s cohost Michael Strahan.
Broussard says Grosey told her in an e-mail that she and the Archdiocese had discussed the policy and that a stripcut that goes from the top of the forehead to the base of the neck is “distracting to the learning process.”
But “the modern blunt cut style, which several students have, differs in that the hair is longer on the top, the crown only and blended through the sides,” Grosey wrote, according to the complaint. Broussard says the principal never stipulated whether Jalyn’s hair would be OK if the back was trimmed.
When the mom asked Immaculate Heart of Mary parish’s reverend for help, he told her to “have faith” in the principal and “give it some more time,” the complaint reveals.
Broussard eventually decided to pull Jalyn and his second-grade brother, Noah, from the school.
“If there was such a blatant double standard when we’re dealing something as insignificant as a haircut, what happens in the classroom?” Broussard told The Daily Beast. “How can we trust them with our child’s education and well-being?”
The day Jalyn was reprimanded, Broussard says his teacher called her on the phone in front of the other students. And Broussard says that when she picked Jalyn up that afternoon, other kids were talking about his hair, with one child announcing, “You have a faux hawk. You can’t have that.”
“He was ostracized,” Broussard told The Daily Beast. “He was very sad. He cried and said he didn’t want to be bald for Christmas.”
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights is representing Broussard’s case and provided reporters with photos of Catholic school kids with similar—and apparently acceptable— haircuts but with their faces blurred.
The mom and her attorney Jennifer Bezoza are requesting tuition reimbursement and cultural sensitivity training for school staff, along with a due process when it comes to policy violations.
“They enforced their policy in a discriminatory way because of [Jalyn’s] race,” Bezoza told The Daily Beast. “The only real difference between Jalyn’s hair and other student hair was the texture. It wasn’t necessarily styled differently. To treat him differently because of cultural characteristics is discrimination.”
Larry Kamer, a spokesman for the Archdiocese, would not discuss facts of the case pending the legal action. He didn’t know if the “modern fade” would be prohibited in school policy moving forward.
“It is a fundamental value in Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of San Francisco to teach tolerance and diversity,” Kamer said. “When a claim like this is made .. we take it seriously.”
“We look forward to providing of a complete version of the facts,” he added.