The Needville Kid's Fight To Wear Long Hair Goes On And On


six month battle

between the Needville Independent School District and an Apache family seemed to be over after a federal judge

ruled in January

that the school district has to let 5-year-old Adriel Arocha attend regular classes, despite his long, braided hair that the family says is a symbol of his religious beliefs.

The boy is scheduled to enter first grade at the end of the summer, but the district isn't giving up so easily.

Flemming Terrell, staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, said in a press release, "While we are disappointed that [the school district] is still trying to restrict the boy's religious freedom, for the sake of conformity, we and our clients are grateful for the support."

A few months back, the school district filed an appeal to the federal judge's ruling -- steming from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas -- in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Strengthening the district's case was a separate brief from the Texas Association of School Boards that, among other things, compared the Arocha case to the Dallas school district denying enrollment of four high school boys in 1968 because of their "Beatle style haircuts."

"In today's society, there is not a great likelihood that long hair worn loose or in braid(s) will convey any type of message other than personal preference," the lawsuit stated.

On Thursday, the ACLU answered with briefs filed from ten groups, including the Lipan Apache tribe -- the Arocha group -- and the Anti-Defamation League, all supporting Aroacha's case. A few highlights:

From the Lipan tribe:

Fathers, such as Mr. Arocha, raise their sons, like [Adriel], to follow the traditional religious beliefs of their Lipan Apache ancestors with confidence that the children will not be harmed for expressing their identity and religion. [Needville ISD] is trying to prevent these freedoms...

From the Anti-Defamation League:

Indeed, the school district made no showing whatsoever of any general health or safety concern relating to long hair. Nor could it: Needville permits girls to wear their hair long and in exposed braids, so any claim that long, braided hair is per se dangerous or unhygienic is facially inconsistent with the grooming policy itself...

From various religious groups, including the Sikh Coalition:

Those efforts include successfully advocating a hate crime conviction where a Sikh boy's hair was forcefully cut by another student in a New York school, and current advocacy on behalf of French Sikh students' wearing the turban where the French government has banned ostensible religious symbols in school in the name of secularism. The United Sikhs requests the Court to uphold the right to practice religion freely...

A representative from Needville Independent School District wasn't available to comment on the case. We're not sure when this issue will be settled for good, but it's been more than a year since it all started, with no end in sight.

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