A Houston-area school district faces a discrimination lawsuit after staffers at Berry Miller Junior High School used a black Sharpie marker to color a seventh-grade student’s haircut.
Berry Miller Junior High School is part of the Pearland Independent School District (Pearland ISD). On April 17, then-Assistant Principal Tony Barcelona approached Juelz Trice, an African-American student. The caucasian administrator said that the 13-year-old’s fade haircut, with what appeared to be the initial M shaved into it, violated school district dress code policy.
Trice was taken to the administrative offices, where Discipline Clerk Helen Day presented him with two options: accept an in-school suspension, or fill in the fade’s design lines with a permanent marker.
Fearing the impact a suspension would have on his school record and track team standing, Trice – who’d never been in trouble before — chose to the marker option. Jeanette Peterson, a teacher at the school, was asked to assist. There have been reports the three staff members laughed as they colored in Trice’s fade.
Randall Kallinen, attorney for parents Dante Trice and Angela Washington, has said the school didn’t notify them when the incident occurred. Trice and Washington have since filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the school district alleging racial discrimination.
Back in April, school officials pointed to the PISD’s dress code policy. It says: “Hair must be neat, clean and well-groomed. Extreme hairstyles such as carvings, mohawks, spikes, etc. are not allowed.”
In May, the month after Trice’s disciplinary action, restrictions regarding hairstyles were removed from the dress code. The district went a step further, releasing a statement saying, “filling in the shape of the hair carving with a marker … is not condoned by the district and does not align with appropriate measures for dress code violations.”
For Trice, who was ridiculed by fellow students, the damage was done. In the lawsuit, it’s said he felt “extremely degraded” by the school’s actions, which caused him to suffer anxiety and depression.”
School District’s Response
As for disciplinary actions taken against the three white school staffers, it’s been reported an administrator was placed on administrative leave. Which one of the three remains unclear, as all are currently working at the school and Barcelona has been promoted to principal at the same school.
When Trice was first disciplined, Washington reached out to Pearland ISD’s superintendent. After receiving no response, her attorney followed up with a letter demanding the involved staffers receive training.
Neither communication was addressed by Pearland ISD. Something the lawsuit addresses with, “Due to the lack of training, lack of proper policies, lack of employee discipline, failure to fire or reassign the individual defendants, and pattern of racial discrimination J.T. is likely to experience further instances of discriminatory actions at the Pearland ISD.”
Beyond compensatory and punitive damages, Trice and Washington’s lawsuit asks that school district employees receive racial sensitivity training about certain haircuts.
The only statement made by the school district came via its lawyer, Tanya Dawson. She said, “Upon receipt, [the lawsuit] will be reviewed by our legal counsel.”
Trice began eighth grade at Berry Miller Junior High School last week.
Berry Miller Junior High School Lawsuit — Sources
NBC News: Texas school staffers colored in black teen’s haircut with a Sharpie, lawsuit claims
CNN: Texas parents sue school officials they say used Sharpie to cover son’s new haircut
Slate: Parents Sue Texas School District After White Administrators Used Sharpie to Cover Black Student’s Haircut