Malachi Wilson’s parents are Navajo and Kiowa, and they believe that their 5 year-old son’s hair is sacred and should not be cut. So Wilson arrived for his first day of kindergarten last week with his long hair in a braid. The principal at F. J. Elementary School in Seminole, Texas promptly send Wilson home, saying that he was not allowed to attend school with long hair because he is a boy.
Principal Sherrie Warren told Malachi’s mother, April Wilson, that he would not be able to come to school until he got a haircut. When April protested by noting her Native American religious beliefs, Warren asked her for to prove that Malachi is, indeed, a Native American.
Eventually, Warren backed down after April agreed to sign a form explaining why her son has long hair. Malachi Wilson was allowed to attend his second day of school. Even so, the school’s decision to deny him a single day of his education almost certainly violated the Constitution and Texas law.
For one thing the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee that “[n]o state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” prohibits gender discrimination unless the state offers an “exceedingly persuasive justification” for doing so. It is unlikely that Malachi’s Wilson’s school could offer such a justification for only allowing girls to grow their hair long.
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