The parents of a black middle school student are suing a Texas school district for forcing the student to color in what the suit described as a “fade haircut with a design line” with a black Sharpie marker. The parents of the then–13-year-old seventh grader in the Pearland Independent School District filed a federal civil rights suit over the weekend against the Houston-area district, Berry Miller Junior High School, and three white school officials, including the principal, alleging racial discrimination. The suit said teachers laughed as they filled in the line that resembled an “M” in the student’s haircut that the school officials said was in violation of the district’s dress code policy.
The incident took place in April, when the student identified in the suit as “J.T.” came to school with a new haircut. School officials sent the teenager to the school office where he was presented with two options: accept an in-school suspension for a violation of the dress code or fill in the line with a permanent black marker. “The haircut did not depict anything violent, gang-related, obscene or otherwise offensive or inappropriate in any manner. J.T. did not believe the haircut violated any school policy,” according to the lawsuit. The suit said the parents were not contacted and the ultimatum put the student “under great duress” because he had not been in trouble before and didn’t want the suspension to affect his standing on the track team.
The suit said the student found the punishment “highly offensive” and felt “extremely degraded” by the process, causing him to suffer from anxiety and depression following the incident. “It is commonly understood among scholars and the general public that depicting African Americans with jet black skin is a negative racial stereotype,” the suit said. The district has since changed its policy, having removed restrictions on hair styles and carvings in May.