10-Year-Old Honor Roll Student Kicked Out of School for Hair Length May Return

March 30, 2007

DETROIT  The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan announced today that a judge has signed an order requiring Old Redford Academy officials to allow fifth-grader, Rodell Jefferson, III, to return to class after he was suspended and told he could face expulsion for the length of his hair. Click here for a picture.

“The school claimed it enacted its hair length policy to curb disruptions in the educational environment,” said Mark Fancher, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Project. "However in many cases where dress codes are in effect, constitutional rights are jeopardized much as in this case where Rodell caused no disruptions, maintained an excellent academic record, and had no significant disciplinary history." 

The Old Redford Academy Dress Code requires that students have “Even, neat, close-cropped haircuts. No designer hair cuts, tails, Afros, dreadlocks, braids, facial hair, side burns or goatees. No twisties. No ‘S’ curls.” Rodell and his father maintain that the fifth grader meets the school’s requirement of having an “even, neat, close-cropped haircut.”

Nonetheless he was repeatedly punished with detentions, suspensions and was finally recommended for expulsion. At the request of Rodell’s father, Rodell Jefferson, Jr., the ACLU of Michigan intervened.

After negotiations stalled between the ACLU and the school, the ACLU took the matter to court asking Judge Susan Borman to issue a temporary restraining order forcing the school to reinstate the ten-year-old. Borman encouraged the parties to reach a settlement without court intervention. Soon after, the school agreed to allow Rodell to come back to school and to clear his school records of this incident. 

“I’m happy that in the end, the school’s officials were willing to put differences aside and allow one of their brightest students to return to his studies,” said Rodell’s father. “Rodell was anxious to return to school and see all of his friends.”

Across the country, the ACLU has fought for the rights of students like Jefferson. Three years ago, the ACLU of Virginia represented Surry County High School student Kent McNew after he was suspended for coloring his hair blue. That case went to court in Richmond, where a federal district judge ordered the school to reinstate McNew and to pay the ACLU's lawyers $25,000 in legal fees.

The district court's decision in McNew's case was based on a 1972 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, Massie v. Henry, holding that students have a "right to wear their hair as they wish as an aspect of the right to be secure in one's person guaranteed by the due process clause." In 1999, the ACLU also represented a Chesterfield County Middle School student who was ordered to leave school because her hair was colored pink. That case never made it to court, as the school immediately reinstated the student once the ACLU intervened.

To view a picture of Rodell Jefferson, III, visit: www.aclumich.org/pdf/jeffersonpic.jpg

To read the order, visit www.aclumich.org/pdf/jeffersoncourtorder.pdf

To read the complaint, visit: www.aclumich.org/pdf/jeffersoncomplaint.pdf