January 22, 2009

Judge allows Indian boy to keep long hair

A federal judge in Texas has ruled that a school district must allow a 5-year-old American Indian kindergartner to wear his hair long for religious reasons.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison ruled Tuesday that the Needville Independent School District violated state law and the U.S. Constitution by penalizing Adriel Arocha, 5, for religious beliefs that require him to keep his hair long, the Houston Chronicle reported Thursday.

By the policy's terms, A.A. must wear his hair in his shirt during recess, on field trips, and on the school bus. When he becomes older, he will have to wear his hair down the back of his shirt at football games, school dances, and, presumably, his high school graduation, Ellison wrote in his ruling. The policy will deny A.A. the opportunity to express a religious practice that is very dear to him and his father.

Kenney Arocha, the boy's father, said hair is considered sacred by Apache Indians and is only cut to mark major life events, including the death of a loved one. He said his son's hair, which has never been cut, is about 13 inches long.