Father of seven-year-old biracial girl whose hair was cut by white teacher files $1 million lawsuit
The father of a 7-year-old biracial girl whose hair was cut by a white teacher without her parents’ knowledge has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the Michigan school district.
The suit against Mount Pleasant Public Schools, filed Tuesday in federal court by Jimmy Hoffmeyer on behalf of his daughter Jurnee, alleges racial discrimination and names the elementary school’s librarian, Kelly Mogg, and teacher’s assistant Kristen Jacobs as defendants, MLive.com reported.
The filing also accuses the Grand Rapids school district of ethnic intimidation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault and battery.
The lawsuit argues that the child’s constitutional rights were violated when Mogg took it upon herself to cut the student’s hair in March after another student at Ganiard Elementary had clipped the kid’s curls days earlier as a prank.
‘I’ve heard people say, “It’s only hair.” But it’s not only hair to her. That was her image, that was her self-esteem.’ Hoffmeyer said.
‘She has nightmares every night now.’
According to the suit, first-grader Jurnee arrived home in March with nearly all her hair cut off, down to a couple of inches from her scalp
Hoffmeyer notified the school’s principal of the incident after the initial prank, but did not pursue further action ‘because it was a child.’
Instead, the girl’s father took Jurnee to a salon to have the barber give her a dissymmetric cut.
Two days after the initial hack job, however, Jurnee arrived home with her hair cut yet again.
This time, though, the job was nowhere near salon-quality.
According to the suit, the first-grader arrived home with nearly all her hair cut off, down to a couple of inches from her scalp, leaving her father – who is also biracial – and mother, Christie – who is white – horrified.
‘Our kind of hair, you can’t just wet down and cut it,’ he told WJRT. ‘Even if they were trying to do it in the kindness of their heart, once they [saw] the outcome, they should have been like, “Yeah, we messed up. We should probably call him and let him know what just happened.”‘
Hoffmeyer – who is biracial – filed the million-dollar lawsuit Tuesday, alleging ‘racial discrimination’ by school staffers’ toward her daughter
‘I asked what happened,’ an irate Hoffmeyer told WJRT, upon seeing Jurnee’s mangled mane.
Hoffmeyer told the outlet that he initially scolded his daughter, saying, ‘I thought I told you no child should ever cut your hair.’
‘She said, “but dad, it was the teacher.” The teacher cut her hair to even it out.’
Hoffmeyer immediately contacted the school to complain, but was told that the teacher responsible – school librarian Mogg – would not be subjected to disciplinary action, aside from a note in the staffer’s file.
‘I’ve heard people say, “It’s only hair.” But it’s not only hair to her. That was her image, that was her self-esteem,’ Hoffmeyer says of his daughter’s once-luscious locks
‘After that teacher cut her hair, she was so embarrassed. So embarrassed. Because she had to go back to class like that,’ Hoffmeyer said.
What’s more, the furious father even claimed the principal tried to get the incident to disappear instead of attempting to correct it.
‘She kept asking me what she could do to make it go away,’ Hoffmeyer said of the principal.
Jimmy Hoffmeyer pictured with his wife Christie, who is white
In the suit, Hoffmeyer contends the defendants violated Jurnee’s constitutional rights by cutting her hair without her parent’s permission, and therefore are not entitled to qualified immunity – a defense often used by teachers and school administrators when they are personally sued in federal court for allegedly violating the statutory or constitutional rights of another individual.
The suit goes on to state that ‘the district ‘failed to properly train, monitor, direct, discipline, and supervise their employees, and knew or should have known that the employees would engage in the complained of behavior given the improper training, customs, procedures, and policies, and the lack of discipline that existed for employees,’ citing ‘deliberate indifference’ and was ‘obdurate’ or ‘wanton,’
A statement from the school board after the incident said that the teacher – who is white – ‘had good intentions’ when styling the student’s hair, and added that she was also a cosmetologist
In July, the Mount Pleasant Public Schools Board of Education said the staffer who cut Jurnee’s hair was reprimanded and that a third-party investigation found that despite ‘good intentions’ of the worker who cut the girl’s hair, doing so without permission from her parents and without the knowledge of district administrators violated school policy.
The board ruled to place Mogg on a ‘last chance’ employment agreement, during which time any further 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 board wrote.
Two other Ganiard staffers, including first-grade teaching assistant Kristen Jacobs, were aware of the incident but did not report it to school officials, despite it going against the school’s policy. All three employees have apologized, the board said.
The school board said the independent investigation found no racial bias and included interviews with district personnel, students and families and a review of video and photos, including posts on social media. District administrators also performed an internal review of the incident.
But Hoffmeyer said the district never questioned him or Jurnee. She now attends another school, in a different district.
Approximately 4% of Mount Pleasant’s 25,000 residents are black, according to the U.S. Census.
Since the incident, Hoffmeyer was offered support by the California-based National Parents Union, a network of parent organizations that advocate for improved quality of life for children in the U.S.
‘NPU has shown so much support for my family,’ Hoffmeyer said. “I can’t even imagine doing any of this without them. I don’t know the laws or how to contact the right people to get things done properly.”
NPU Director of Policy and Legislation Christina Laster organized a GoFundMe April 26 with a fundraising goal of $50,000.
Amy Bond, Mount Pleasant Public Schools Board of Education president, said Thursday that the district has not received the complaint.
‘We are confident that the facts will prevail given our district’s appropriate and aggressive response to the incident and the findings of the third-party investigation that was conducted,’ Bond said in a statement. ‘We will aggressively defend against these baseless allegations in court and will not allow this to distract us from our mission to provide every child a world-class education that prepares them for college and careers.’
The next court date for Hoffmeyer’s lawsuit is pending.