School officials in Pearland, Texas, are being sued after a seventh-grade student was forced to fill in his hair design with a black Sharpie marker earlier this year. A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed Sunday against Principal Tony Barcelona, Discipline Clerk Helen Day, another official and the Pearland School District.
According to the lawsuit, school officials argue that the 13-year-old student's "African American 'fade' haircut violated" the Berry Miller Junior High School dress code policy. The suit calls the act of coloring in the minor's hair racist and claims that it caused humiliation and shame for the boy, identified as J.T.
"J.T. felt extremely degraded and suffered at least great embarrassment, shame, anxiety and depression," the complaint reads.
CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV reports the incident occurred in April. The assistant principal at Berry Miller Junior High told the minor he was in violation of the dress code, which at the time stated that "hair must be neat, clean and well-groomed. Extreme hair styles such as carvings, mohawks, spikes, etc. are not allowed."
The lawsuit alleges that "a fade haircut is common with African American youth. The haircut did not depict anything violent, gang-related, obscene or otherwise offensive or inappropriate in any manner. J.T. did not believe the haircut violated any school policy."
According to the complaint, Principal Barcelona, along with Discipline Clerk Helen Day and teacher Jeanette Peterson, laughed as the student's design was colored in.
"Discipline Clerk Day took the jet-black Sharpie and starting coloring J.T.'s scalp. J.T. did not consent to Discipline Clerk Day coloring his scalp and found it highly offensive," the complaint reads.
An attorney for the child's parents noted in the complaint that depicting African Americans with jet black skin is a negative racial stereotype dating back to the Jim Crow era.
"The jet-black markings did not cover the haircut design line but made the design more prominent and such was obvious to those present at the very beginning of the scalp blackening process," the complaint states.
The district said in a statement in May that the incoming principal "humbly apologized, expressed great regret over this matter and has resolved to re-earn the trust and confidence placed upon him."
J.T. and his family are seeking monetary damages, declaratory judgement and injunctive relief. They have requested a jury trial.
Among the request for relief, the complaint seeks that the court to order the Pearland School District to instruct employees that students "have the right to a fade haircut with a non-offensive line design" and that school district employees "cannot interfere with those rights." The complaint also requests that the Pearland School District's former dress code policy be declared "Unconstitutional."
Pearland Independent School District changed its dress code policy in May to eliminate the section banning "extreme" hairstyles.