The ACLU of Louisiana has challenged a high school’s suspension of a student for the length of his dreadlocks.
The Aug. 25 open letter was sent to South Plaquemines High School in Port Sulphur, La., which suspended a Rastafarian student for the length of his dreadlocks, though his religion forbids him to cut his hair.
The letter, written by ACLU Foundation of Louisiana Staff Attorney Candice Sirmon, notes that the student, identified only as John Doe, was suspended because his hair fell below the top of his shirt collar—a violation of the school’s dress code.
Sirmon argued that the school’s policy violates both the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Louisiana’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, and requested a formal hearing before the Plaquemines Parish School Board.
The letter also documents the harassment the student has faced from school officials: being sent home on Aug. 11, and then, after his mother was told by a school board member that he could pin his hair up, being sent home on Aug. 15 despite doing exactly that.
The mother, who is also not identified in the letter, also presented the school’s superintendent, Denis Rousselle, with a letter from her church documenting their membership in the faith and explaining that the Rastafarian religion mandates that men not cut their hair as part of their spiritual practice.
“This controversy has adversely affected John Doe personally, as well as his grades,” Sirmon wrote. “We ask that the School Board immediately take all steps to remedy any harm he has suffered and to respect and protect his religious beliefs. Please contact me at your earliest convenience to schedule a hearing. This must be done as quickly as possible to protect John Doe’s right to an education.”