There was no racial bias at play when a Michigan school staff member cut a biracial child’s hair, the school district said on Friday, citing the result of a third-party investigation into the incident which occurred in March.
The Mount Pleasant Public School district (MPPS) released a statement saying that the investigation found that the employee violated school policy by cutting the girl’s hair, but that there was no evidence that the incident was “motivated by racial bias.” The district said that the investigation was done in addition to an internal review by the district administration. The statement didn’t disclose who conducted the independent investigation.
Mount Pleasant is a city in central Michigan. The school district has an enrollment of more than 3,400 students of whom 72.4% are White, according to data from the Michigan Department of Education. Less than 2.5% are described as African American.
The investigation was launched after Jurnee Hoffmeyer, a 7-year-old biracial girl, had her hair cut by a librarian in late March, according to Christina Laster, the Director of Policy and Legislation for the National Parents Union and a representative and advocate for the family.
In an interview with CNN, Laster said that Hoffmeyer came home on March 24 with a chunk of her hair missing and told her dad that another girl at school cut it. They then had a hairstylist fix her hair by giving her an asymmetrical bob cut that left some of the hair’s length.
But two days later, Hoffmeyer came home crying with her hair trimmed short, according to Laster. She said that her librarian had cut her hair while at school. Two other school employees were also aware of the incident but didn’t report it, Laster said.
The family believes the unauthorized haircut was due to racial bias, Laster said. Hoffmeyer’s dad reported the incident to the school district but transferred her out after the employee wasn’t fired, she said.
The employee who cut the student’s hair won’t be fired, the district said in the statement Friday, but will “be placed on a ‘last chance’ agreement during which time any future violations will likely result in termination.”
“We believe a last chance agreement is appropriate given that the employee has an outstanding record of conduct and has never once been reprimanded in more than 20 years of work at MPPS,” the statement said.
The district also noted that the two other employees who didn’t report the haircut were given written reprimands that will remain in their school file.
“It’s clear from the third-party investigation and the district’s own internal investigation that MPPS employees had good intentions when performing the haircut,” the district said. “Regardless, their decisions and actions are unacceptable and show a major lack of judgement. The employees involved have acknowledged their wrong actions and apologized.”
Laster said that the family felt twice victimized after hearing the results of the investigation.
“First the librarian cut her hair without permission, and she suffered traumatically,” Laster told CNN. “She is now in counseling and therapy for a thing that happened to her and is still trying to grow her hair back.”
“The school board only offered a small reprimand, so they feel victimized again,” she said.
Laster said she found the investigation results disappointing and confusing, especially because none of the Hoffmeyer family was interviewed or asked for their perspective.
“They didn’t get both sides of the story, so how do you get those key findings?” she said. “Overall it’s a lack of accountability.”
CNN has reached out to the school district for comment.
The family has decided to pursue a state investigation into the incident and has filed a complaint with Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights. The department confirmed it is investigating a certified complaint from Hoffmeyer’s father.
“We cannot discuss the particulars of a complaint while it remains under investigation,” said Vicki Levengood, communications director for the department. “We can say, however, that our Community Engagement Director will be in contact with the school administration again this week to assess the situation and to assist with training and educational opportunities that we believe may help prevent an incident of this type from occurring in the future.”
CNN has also reached out to the Michigan Department of Education and the Hoffmeyer’s attorney for comment.
The family is also trying to push for more legislation that makes it illegal to discriminate based on hair, Laster said.
“No child should be receiving a haircut at school,” she said. “This has been humiliating to her family, and this is a young girl who is developing and is going to have a lifelong impact. They are not seeing the harm. They are protecting adults, not children.”
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