VA Middle School Student with Blue Hair Allowed to Return to Class After ACLU Intervention

April 29, 2002 12:00 am

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NORFOLK, VA–The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia said today that Norview Middle School officials have allowed sixth-grader Jesse Doyle to return to class after he was told he could not come back until his hair had returned to its original color.

“Schools often claim that students with colored or outlandish hair disrupt the educational environment,” said Kent Willis, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia. “In the end, though, we usually find that the only real disturbances are caused by school officials themselves, when then conspicuously and irrationally punish students for doing nothing more than quietly exercising a constitutional right.”

According to Doyle’s mother, Kim McConnell, Jesse was removed from class on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of last week and told that he could not come back until his hair had been returned to its original color. Jesse was not required to leave the school, but could not attend classes while serving an in-school suspension.

At the request of Jesse’s family, the ACLU of Virginia advised the school in a letter last Friday that Doyle had a constitutional right to the hair color and style of his choice.

After receiving the ACLU’s letter and getting follow-up phone calls from the civil liberties group this morning, City of Norfolk school administrators agreed to reinstate Doyle. By the end of the day he was back in class.

The issue of student suspensions over hair color is not new to the ACLU. 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.

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