Student's Lawyer Vows Fight Over Hairstyle
Oct. 7, 2002 - Education officials have been warned that recent disciplinary action against a St. Croix junior high school honor student could lead to a discrimination lawsuit.
Anthony Gibson, 12, was sent home from John H. Woodson Junior High School on Sept. 19 and again the following day because he was wearing his hair braided in corn rows. On Sept. 20, school officials called police to the school, claiming the boy was creating a disturbance.
The Woodson dress code prohibits boys from wearing braids. Published reports at the time cited Principal Vaughn Hewitt as saying that hair worn in that style by boys was a sign of gang affiliation.
Anthony's parents were already taking on the system with an appeal to the Board of Education when their son came home on Sept. 30 with a written notice that he had been transferred to Arthur A. Richards Junior High.
"They just gave him this letter and said, 'Give this to your father,'" Shawn Gibson, an employee of a contractor at the Hovensa refinery, said on Sunday. Gibson made it clear: "I didn't ask for a transfer."
Gibson subsequently engaged lawyer Lee J. Rohn to represent his son. In a letter dated Oct. 3 addressed to Acting Commissioner Noreen Michael and other top Education officials, Rohn said Anthony has the right to wear his hair in the braids without fear of suspension or police intervention. And, she said, transferring the student without notifying the parents was only making things worse.
In her letter, Rohn gave the board and department authorities 10 days to end the policy and to allow Anthony the freedom to wear corn rows to school. If the matter is not resolved by then, she said, she will take the matter to court.
"As I understand it, Anthony Gibson is an exemplary student who has had no disciplinary problems. He prefers to wear his hair in braids both as a matter of personal preference and as a statement as to what he stands for and his origins," she said.
"It is clear that the Department of Education is discriminating against him, violating his rights under the U.S. Constitution, denied him the right to be heard before imposing discipline, and slandered him by suggesting his hairstyle was a sign of gang affiliation," Rohn wrote.
Anthony "was not told the reason for his suspension, he was not given an opportunity to present his side of the matter, the notice of suspension was to be given to him in writing, and the suspension was to be reported to the parent in writing, which was not done," she wrote.
Rohn said her client especially objected to the school administration calling the police on Sept. 20, charging that the boy was creating a disturbance.
After receiving the transfer notice, he sent his son back to Woodson with his hair unbraided, Gibson said on Sunday. "I can't afford for him to miss school, and I can't afford for him to get hauled off by the cops, which is what they threatened to do," he said.
And he said he has agreed to comply with Hewitt's request not to send Anthony to school wearing corn rows while the situation is under review.
School dress codes are part of the overall disciplinary codes set by the Board of Education, but transfers fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education, where spokeswoman Juel Anderson said she found an account of Anthony's transfer hard to believe. "I spoke to the assistant principal," she said on Friday. "She told me the little boy was in school ... I really don't believe they would transfer him without the notification of the parents."
Anderson said on Friday that both Hewitt and St. Croix District Superintendent Terrence Joseph were off island and could not be reached for comment.
Joseph had said earlier that an internal review of the controversy would result in a policy to apply to all of the St. Croix district public schools.
The executive director of the Board of Education, Evadney Hodge, said Anthony has been granted a hearing before the board on the matter, and it probably will take place by the end of October.
On Sunday, almost two weeks since the initial suspension, Gibson said he had not received a hearing date. He also said he has heard from other parents on St. Croix -- one of them a teacher who taught him when he was a student at Central High School -- about summary transfers involving their children in the district.--------------------------------------------- opinions anyone? i think that people should be able to wear braids if they want. white OR black.boy OR girl. many dress codes, imo, at schools and workplaces are just ridiculous!
Oct 24, '02
My son was sent home from high school several times because he was wearing a color or an emblem on his shirt that was thought to be imflammatory. (and we were not even aware of it at the time)
I'm with Adrie...I may not understand all of it but the school officials need to try and keep the peace in the gang areas...gangs will change their markings to throw the cops off...I may not know their latest emblem, etc so I will support the police gang control and school officers.
I believe we need more discipline in our schools not less. Two junior highs in my city have turned around their bad drug and gang reputations by becoming very strict and requiring uniforms and appearance guidelines. Seems to be working well here.
What are we teaching our children when we file lawsuits because we can't do what we want in in any given circumstance? Why don't people look at the bigger picture? This entitled behavior concerns me and has given us greater numbers of entitled, arrogant kids with little respect for rules, IMO. Nurses have to deal with them in the hospital (they get worse as adults don't they) We run into the the same old poor attitude for rules and authority there too. This wasn't the case 25 years ago and I believe they're related..
Call me old fashioned I guess...LOL!
Last edit by mattsmom81 on Oct 24, '02