A New Mexico appeals court has announced that a discrimination case involving Native American hair will be tried.
The incident sparked outrage in New Mexico, which led to anti-discrimination laws being passed.
The appeals ruling confirms that “all students must feel safe in school and confident that they are valued by public schools and that their culture, personal dignity, and history are respected.” ”
A ruling by the appeals court has revived a discrimination lawsuit that accused an Albuquerque school teacher of cutting one Native American girl’s hair off and asking another whether she was dressed up as a “bloody Indian” during Halloween class.
New Mexico, and other states, passed laws that prohibited discrimination against girls based on their hairstyles and religious headwear.
In a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, a teacher and Albuquerque Public Schools were accused of discrimination and creating a hostile environment for learning. ACLU of New Mexico’s Deputy Director Leon Howard stated that the ruling confirms the New Mexico Human Rights Act antidiscrimination provisions for public schools.
Howard, in a press release, said that the appellate decision validates “that all students must feel safe at their school and confident that they are valued, respected, and valued by public schools that they attend.”
A lower court ruled that a high school public does not qualify under the civil rights laws of the state as a “public facility”. The appeals court’s ruling sends the case back to district court in order for it to be heard on its merits.
The New Mexico Human Rights Act will apply if a secondary school official refuses to provide services to a student based on their race, religion or sexual orientation. Miles Hanissee wrote.
Monica Armenta, a spokesperson for Albuquerque Public Schools, said that the district is evaluating options to appeal.
The lawsuit claims that English teacher Mary Jane Eastin dressed as a witch voodoo on Halloween 2018 and started a game where she asked students questions, and rewarded those who answered correctly by giving them marshmallows.
The suit claims that at some point Eastin asked a Native American girl whether she liked the braids on her head and then chopped off three inches of hair with scissors before scattering the hair all over her desk.
According to the lawsuit, Eastin asked McKenzie Johnson (16), a plaintiff, if she had dressed up as a “bloody Indian.” Johnson’s mom told reporters that her daughter had dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood for Halloween, complete with a red paw print on her face. Johnson, a Navajo woman, told reporters she felt unwelcome at school.
Eastin was not invited back to Cibola high school by the superintendent of the district, who publicly apologized.
Johnson called this ruling a victory for Indigenous students, among others.
She said, “We are surrounded with Native communities.” “School staff of all levels must understand our culture, our history and prevent what happened in my class from happening again.”
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed legislation that will prohibit discrimination or discipline of students based upon their hairstyle, religious headdress, or culture in 2021.
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives backed a bill that failed largely because of the prejudices Black people face in society, schools and workplaces due to their hairstyles.
Johnson is also represented by Parnall & Adams Law and New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.