'Deeply Concerned': Michigan Department of Civil Rights addresses Mount Pleasant school employee cutting student's hair
A situation involving Mount Pleasant Public Schools and one of its former students has garnered nationwide attention over the past couple of weeks.
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) addressed the incident where a school staff member cut the hair of a biracial student without parental consent.
"We are deeply concerned about the reported incident ... ," MDCR director James E. White said. "We are in contact with the school administration and the child's family to ascertain the facts and circumstances that led to this unfortunate event and to decide on the next steps."
Jurnee Hoffmeyer, 7, arrived home from Ganiard Elementary School on March 24 with the hair on one side of her head cut off. Her father, Jimmy Hoffmeyer contacted the school - which was on spring break at the time. A week later he found out a fellow student had cut Jurnee's hair with a pair of scissors on the bus ride home.
After getting it fixed up at the salon, Hoffmeyer thought it would be the last time someone touched his daughter's hair. However, Jurnee came home a couple of days later with an even shorter haircut. Jurnee told her dad that a librarian had cut it.
"I've heard people say, 'It's only hair," Hoffmeyer said. "It's not only hair to her. That was her image, that was her self-esteem."
Hoffmeyer said Jurnee was deeply traumatized by the situation but has received an outpour of support from the Mount Pleasant community and across the nation.
"I don't know what her dreams are about. She won't tell me, but she has nightmares every night now." Hoffmeyer said. "She kicked out of bed last night, freaking out about something. And when I woke her up, she didn't tell me. She was just sad."
Since the incident, Hoffmeyer has taken Jurnee out of the Mount Pleasant public school system. He also partnered with the California-based National Parents Union, a network of parent organizations that advocate for improved quality of life for children in the U.S.
"NPU has shown so much support for my family," Hoffmeyer said. "I can't even imagine doing any of this without them. I don't know the laws or how to contact the right people to get things done properly."
NPU Director of Policy and Legislation Christina Laster organized a GoFundMe April 26 with a fundraising goal of $50,000.
"After this egregious hair cutting incident, (the Hoffmeyer's) lives have not been the same. In a small town like Mount Pleasant, they do not feel that there are adequate resources for their family to thrive," Lasher wrote on the page. "They have also been met locally with anger, unfairness and a lack of compassion because of their advocacy efforts for #JusticeForJurnee."
Strengthening the fight against hair discrimination
White said the incident shows a need for legislation "to make it clear that discriminating against a person because their hairstyle does not conform with dominant cultural standards is discrimination based on race."
White is in favor of the state adopting the CROWN Act, an backronym for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” The legislation would ban and help fight against hair discrimination.
"It is not uncommon for Black and biracial women and girls to be subjected to discrimination and disparate treatment based on their hair," White said. "The CROWN Act, currently under consideration in the state legislature, would clarify that such discrimination is a violation of an individual's civil rights. We urge lawmakers to pass the CROWN Act and send it to the Governor for her signature."
California, Washington state, New York, Virginia, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey and Connecticut have already adopted the CROWN Act as law.
The bill was sponsored in Michigan by state Rep. Sarah Anthony and reintroduced in February. Ingham County became the first county in the state to pass a resolution banning hair discrimination against public employees on March 23.
Mount Pleasant Schools addresses incident
Jurnee's story was first published by the Black Wall Street Times April 16.
The Mount Pleasant School Board referred to the article as "inaccurate media reports" at its April 19 meeting. The administration sent out a letter to parents the next morning.
"At Mount Pleasant Public Schools, we strive to ensure all our students can learn and achieve in an inclusive, safe environment free from harassment, discrimination, bigotry or intolerance," Mount Pleasant Public Schools Superintendent Jennifer Verleger said. "We work hard each day to foster a culture of respect, compassion and kindness so all our students, families, staff and visitors feel welcome and supported."
In an effort for transparency, Verleger detailed the school's ongoing internal review.
Verleger confirmed that Jurnee's friend had removed scissors from a classroom without permission and cut a portion of Jurnee's hair while riding home on the bus. The next school day, the principal met with both students to discuss the incident.
Jurnee then "grew unhappy and dissatisfied with the way her hair looked after the other student cut it." Verleger said Jurnee asked a school librarian – who is also a cosmetologist – to help fix her hair during a classroom visit to the library.
The employee agreed and cut Jurnee's hair without the parents' permission or consulting with school administrators. The school found that Jurnee's teacher was aware of the plan to cut her hair.
"Regardless of their good intentions, these actions are unacceptable and show a lack of judgment on the part of our two employees," Verleger said. "Both employees have admitted their actions and apologized. Both are being reviewed for further disciplinary actions in accordance with our school policies and procedures. I have personally apologized to the family on behalf of the school district."
Following Verleger's statement, Lasher released a statement of her own in support of the Hoffmeyer family. She explained that Jurnee was too young to consent to the haircut and should not be blamed for the situation
"The implication by Mount Pleasant Public Schools that Jurnee asked for the haircut and was being done a favor by all parties isn't consistent with her story, the family's understanding and not within legal parameters," Lasher said. "Jurnee Hoffmeyer loved her hair that she grew from birth and did not seek out a haircut at school."
Lasher also said adults have "a legal and fiduciary responsibility to care for minor children left in their care." She said people should treat all children like their own.
"We do not find placing blame on Jurnee is the best way to offer remorse and accountability," Lasher said. "The way to move forward in authenticity, real meaningful progress and change, combat systemic racism and hold school systems to task is by offering an apology, restitution and viable solutions to ensure this type of situation never happens again."
The matter is continuing to attract attention on social media with the hashtag “#JusticeForJurnee."