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Haircuts at western Nebraska school district violated Native students' rights, federal lawsuit alleges

Haircuts at western Nebraska school district violated Native students' rights, federal lawsuit alleges

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A western Nebraska school district violated students' Native beliefs when an employee cut their hair, a lawsuit filed in federal court Monday alleges.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought the suit on behalf of two parents against Cody-Kilgore Unified Schools, saying an employee cut the hair of two elementary students without their consent twice during head lice exams in the spring of 2020.

The haircuts continued even after the parents objected, the suit claims.

The parents, who live in Kilgore, say the haircuts violated the beliefs of their children, who are Lakota and affiliated with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe — in their culture, the length of their hair is viewed as a sacred symbol, which can only be cut under specific circumstance and by select people. 

“We believe our hair is our spirit; as it grows, our spirit grows,” one of the parents named in the suit said in a news release.

The parents contend the school's actions violated the First Amendment, as well as the constitutional right to due process, while also breaching racial discrimination provisions under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act. The parents are seeking damages in the case.

The discrimination claim is tied to the school's differential treatment of lice checks, the ACLU argues. The school district's head lice policy does not mention trimming hair, the suit says, and a letter from officials acknowledged the district was following a different, unwritten policy for Natives.

The situation could have been avoided if the school had merely followed the policy already on the books and respected the family's beliefs, said ACLU of Nebraska's Rose Godinez.

“Discrimination and disrespect have no place in Nebraska," Godinez said.

When reached by phone Monday, Cody-Kilgore Superintendent Ryan Orrock said he was not aware of the lawsuit and offered no comment on the proceedings.

Contact the writer at zhammack@journalstar.com or 402-473-7225. On Twitter @zach_hammack

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