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Old 07-16-2008, 11:44 PM   #1
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Boy's hair length at issue for school in Texas

July 14, 2008, 11:25PM
Native American beliefs clash with rural district's dress code
Long hair doesn't cut it, school says

By ERIC HANSON
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

A small rural school district in Fort Bend County and a determined mother are tangled in a dispute over hair.

Michelle Betenbaugh says her 5-year-old son, Adriel Arocha, wears his hair long because of religious beliefs tied to his Native American heritage.

But the leaders of the Needville school district have strict rules about long hair on boys and don't see any reason to make an exception in his case.

The dispute illustrates a problem American schools have faced for decades: how to balance individual student rights against rules designed to maintain order and discipline in the classroom.

The case also shows that some rural Texas school districts often have stricter grooming codes that reflect the traditional or old-fashioned values of small-town America when compared to those in big-city school districts such as Houston's.

According to a legal expert, courts have repeatedly backed school districts in numerous lawsuits. But the same courts have granted students and parents some rights when it comes to hairstyles tied to religion.

"Every sort of legal challenge that could spring into the creative mind of a lawyer has been brought," said Joy Baskin, an attorney for the Texas Association of School Boards. "Time after time, courts have said that it is not unreasonable to regulate dress and grooming."

Baskin said legal rulings regarding challenges to hair codes on religious grounds let school districts grant exceptions.

Appeal to school board
Betenbaugh's fight started in May when she told Needville school officials she planned to move to Needville from her Meadows Place home over the summer and enroll her son in kindergarten.

She told officials that Adriel had waist-length hair and she wanted to keep it that way. She said her husband is of Apache heritage and the tribe's religious practices call for men to wear their hair long.

"His dad is of Native American descent, so we have chosen to raise him with certain beliefs in place, one of them being that his hair is sacred and we don't cut it," she said.

But Needville administrators said the boy's hair would have to be cut.

Betenbaugh said she plans to appeal the decision to the school board Wednesday, and if the board rules against her she will fight in court.

Betenbaugh will be taking on the Needville Independent School District, a system of 2,596 students surrounded by farm and ranch country. The town is tight-knit, and many of the children at the Needville schools are third- and fourth-generation students.

Superintendent Curtis Rhodes, a Needville High graduate himself, said he talked to Betenbaugh about the dispute and decided no exception should be granted to the rule.

"What is their religious belief that defies cutting hair and following our policies?" Rhodes said. "They have not produced any information except they are Native American Indians."

Rhodes said if the family can provide more specifics, the district would reconsider the case.

Needville's dress and grooming code, which does not allow hair past the collar or eyes, is similar to other rural districts' in the Houston region.

In the Devers school district in Liberty County, boys cannot wear hair below the collar.

"I would consider it pretty much a rural community with the basic tenets and beliefs that go with that," said superintendent Larry Wadzek.

Wadzek said controversies over hair rarely come up and the district has never had to go to court over it.

Houston school district spokesman Norm Uhl said the district has no hair code and that individual school administrators set dress policies.

Baskin said school districts have had more success enforcing dress codes because courts have ruled that clothing can be disruptive, which creates distractions in the classroom.

No plans to move
A federal appeals court has said schools can also set rules about hair but that accommodations can be made for religious reasons.

"Religion is probably one of the few or only areas where students are going to be afforded a greater protection," Baskin said.

Baskin said the reason rules regarding dress and grooming are imposed is that educators believe the classroom environment is more orderly with those guidelines in place.

"The students have better attendance, have better disciplinary behavior, and it has alleviated tension among students who might be distracted by dress," she said.

Baskin said Texas has a religious freedom law that basically says a governmental unit can't pass a rule that infringes on a person's good-faith exercise of religion unless an exemption would cause an undue hardship for the governmental unit.

Baskin said many Native American tribes include hair length as a religious belief and if the case is litigated, a court will have to consider a number of factors. "Where does the religious tenet come from? Is it an organized religion or a personal set of beliefs?" she said.

Meanwhile, Betenbaugh said she is ready to fight the Needville rule and has not considered moving to another school district with a less stringent hair code.

"It would just teach our son that it is easier to roll over and do what you're told and not stand up for your rights," she said.

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Old 07-17-2008, 02:54 AM   #2
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good thing I got to go to public school and not a private one with dress codes and what not.
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Old 07-17-2008, 10:36 AM   #3
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One of the things that gets me on this is the gender disparity. Are they saying that a little girl with short hair would be a distraction to the learning environment? How is that the girls with long hair can study and learn with their hair long? It really is a gender bias that needs to be let go.
And, Anishtradish, I believe this is a public school. One that has the same dress code my public school did when I was growing up.
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Old 07-17-2008, 11:47 AM   #4
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This is just another tactic by white authority figures to degrade and ultimately destroy our ways and make us "good americans" by forced assimilation through policy. I find it interesting that they attempt to force what they call "Native American spirituality" or "Native American Religion" into their framework as well and try to [I]define[I] "It" as either organized religion or break it down into "religious tenets." We all know that this is impossible because there are so many tribal ways. They cannot easily reduce it to just one religion, and that is part of their problem (THEIR problem, not ours)--it complicates things for them and makes them want to call us the "indian problem" once again, as is historically documented. Long hair for a majority of Native peoples is the norm and does have ties to religious beliefs--they should just accept it and not try to "understand" it (again, another historical error being replayed). If it was me, I would fight too, and move if I had to--no one is forcing my son to cut his hair or to conform or assimilate! NATIVE POWER! BE PROUD!
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Old 07-17-2008, 01:40 PM   #5
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This has always been a pet peave of mine. Schools are always whining about their lack of resources and all the things they have to do, yet they have the time and money to harrass students over the length of their hair.

Here's a newsflash for the school districts: Long hair on boys stopped being distracting way back in the early 1960's! My brothers and I were in school back during those early "hair wars." By the time I reached high school (Oklahoma public school), the administration had given up. The dress code for boys became basically:

1. Hair had to be clean and groomed (combed/brushed); no restriction on length.
2. No shorts.
3. No sleeveless shirts or half-shirts.
4. No "open" shoes (sandals, flip-flops and the like).
5. Slogans on t-shirts could not advertise or condone anything illegal. So no beer logos, no tobacco product logos, and no marijuana leaves.

For the times, that always seemed pretty reasonable to me. I have never understood why it is anyone's business how someone else wears their hair, whether it is for religious reasons or for simple aesthetics.

As an interesting aside, back in the day neither President Bush's nor Governor Rick Perry's (aka Governor Good Hair) hair would've passed muster with the dress code. They both would've been sent home to get cleaned up and not look like "hippies"!
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Old 07-22-2008, 05:04 PM   #6
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The school I attended pretty much said the same thing as the Needville ISD did. Our tribe and the school district took it to court where much later, it was decided that the native students could keep their hair length.

If it was researched more, I'm sure the family can reiterate the same beliefs as the ones my tribe did over 20 years ago.
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Old 07-22-2008, 05:23 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by MayChe View Post
Baskin said many Native American tribes include hair length as a religious belief and if the case is litigated, a court will have to consider a number of factors. "Where does the religious tenet come from? Is it an organized religion or a personal set of beliefs?" she said.
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pshaw! who gives any judge the right to question the basis of Native cultural beliefs...this kid is going to get to keep his long hair, it's called the "Bill of Rights", not even Texas can get out of that.

my lil bro is half kainai and half austrian. he goes to a german public school but he wears his light-brown hair long. i wish that school district would try something stupid like that one! puhleez
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Old 07-25-2008, 06:22 PM   #8
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I found this forum on a local talk radio station regarding this issue and it totally amazes me at the stupidity of the human race at times.

I went to this school "back in the day" and it was a REDNECK school then and REDNECK school now. The people haven't changed at all. Academically it's a fantastic school and perhaps that's why the parents want him to go there.
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Old 07-25-2008, 06:25 PM   #9
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all's i know . . . you want a good education . . . cut ure hair . . . it will grow back
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Old 07-25-2008, 06:34 PM   #10
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Old 08-29-2008, 11:31 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Kaina1128 View Post
well
is the Constitution is still the Constitution
ummmm, where does it say in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights..........the right to have long hair. it doesn't, so you can't use that arguement in a court of law.
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Old 08-29-2008, 12:36 PM   #12
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all's i know . . . you want a good education . . . cut ure hair . . . it will grow back
yes it will but it gos far beyond that ya know what I mean? My own sons cut their hair, not cause of tha school but other idiots st the school, I feal some of what these parents are going threw, if this lil mans hair is cut they win,I personally dont want them to win.
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Old 08-29-2008, 06:12 PM   #13
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wow he sounds like he has amazing hair. I dont think they should back down! WTG! Keep up the fight. :)
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Old 08-29-2008, 06:43 PM   #14
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Public schools can't have enforceable dress codes. As a taxpayer, one's children are entitled to free, public education. When I was in school, there was a suggested dress code but everyone knew it wasn't enforceable. There have been legal cases around this, and I haven't read of a single one where the school district won.
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Old 08-30-2008, 02:06 PM   #15
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Old 08-30-2008, 02:09 PM   #16
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Old 08-30-2008, 03:10 PM   #17
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ummmm, where does it say in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights..........the right to have long hair. it doesn't, so you can't use that arguement in a court of law.
Ummm there are ALOT of "specifics" that the Constitution does not specify, but that is why we have courts, so those RIGHTS that we have as US Citizens can be argued, IN a court of law, to define which ones are "covered" and which ones are not. Having long hair is a personal issue, and I believe that as long as it is not a public health issue, then any person should have the right to keep their hair however the heck they want. Something so basic BETTER be covered under that big, broad document!!

Think about this..... The right to Sun dance and pray as Native people, as well as gather together at powwows was once in question. It wasn't mentioned specifically in the Constitution, but By Golly, it's been proven in a court, because of persistent Native people, that its OUR right...lets not be to hasty to dismiss issues that might seem small and insignificant to some. It's these small battles that lead up to greater victories!!

I applaud all the little warriors out there, who stand strong with the support of their families, and keep their hair long and healthy!! We went through the same thing here, and its been a big boost to my son's self esteem to have stood up for himself and his long hair.
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Old 08-30-2008, 03:19 PM   #18
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One of the things that gets me on this is the gender disparity. Are they saying that a little girl with short hair would be a distraction to the learning environment? How is that the girls with long hair can study and learn with their hair long? It really is a gender bias that needs to be let go.
And, Anishtradish, I believe this is a public school. One that has the same dress code my public school did when I was growing up.
I am wondering WHY ARE THESE KIDS IN THIS SCHOOL DISTRICT SO EASILY DISTRACTED?? Is it something in the water? The students in my kid's school aren't so easily distracted, and there are two boys in my sons 4th grade class with long hair. There are also girls with short hair, and all kinds of kids with black hair, brown hair, clean hair, dirty hair, curly hair, blonde hair, and even one with RED HAIR.. Thank god we dont live where the water is so tainted that it leads to some mental defect that children's learning and attention spans are so adversly affected!!!!! If I was one of the parents in that school, I would be suing someone for allowing my kid to get so damaged like that!!
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Old 08-31-2008, 06:11 PM   #19
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Feh :/

He wont win unfortunately. Eventually his parents will run short on money and the case will have to be dropped. Or they'll drop it for the kid's sake. I mean he's 5 right? I think he understands what's going on but, doesn't really grasp the full weight of the issue. Which is to say, he probably just wants things to go back to normal for him and his family.

And once it's dropped and good ol' Sam wins again it will be brushed under the rug and we'll all forget about it within' the next month. So, yea. He should just cut his hair or switch schools, one five year old and his mom can't beat the system that has been committing genocide for over 300 years and has gotten no flak for it.

It was a cute try though.
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Old 08-31-2008, 07:53 PM   #20
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I applaud the family....

Register to vote people sympathetic to the situation of this family and get them to the polls.....because you can vote out the current Fort Bend/Needville School District Trustees when they come up for election again.

It works!!!
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