A Native American Family Fights Against Hair Length Rules

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After Rhodes ruled that Adriel would have to cut his hair, he also said the family could appeal his decision. Rhodes sent the family appeal forms, and Arocha and Betenbaugh will present a case to the Needville school board at a meeting on July 16.

"[The school board is] pretty solid, and they're proud of the Needville heritage we have here," Rhodes says. "There's a lot of school districts that have lost their discipline and all their beliefs. Needville's pretty tight about that, they're pretty tight about the traditions they have."

Arocha and Betenbaugh expect the school board to uphold the ruling, and the next step is a lawsuit. If the American Indian Movement or the ACLU doesn't provide lawyers, Betenbaugh says the family will hire its own.

"I don't want this to go to trial; I don't want them to have to waste their money to defend this," Arocha says. "They had an individual burn down part of their high school last year. I would much rather them spend their money fixing the high school than having to hire a lawyer to defend something that's constitutionally protected."

When the family started dealing with the school disrict, Betenbaugh launched a blog, thestitchwitch.wordpress.com. Rhodes says the Web site has passed through Needville like hot fire.

"There's been some statements thrown by the family about bashing Needville," he says. "I've heard about it at the feed store and downtown at the restaurants. Needville is going to stand tight and unified. We're still going to be Needville."

Arocha says that when this started, he explained the problem to Adriel. And he believes that his son understands.

"I don't want to cut my hair, so we're having an argument," Adriel says. "I want to go to school. I don't know how to read. I've never gone to daycare, so I really want to go."

Arocha and Betenbaugh bought the land in Needville in October. Neither expected such a problem, but now that one exists, Arocha believes the issue has become bigger than him or Adriel.

"The Native American Freedom of Religion Act was passed in 1978. I was three. I was three when my people were finally given the ability to express their religious beliefs," he says. "Here we are, 30 years later, and they want me to give it back. I don't feel like I can waver on this."

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Paul Knight
Contact: Paul Knight