State-Funded Charter School Says Native 1st-Grader's Traditional Hair Violates Dress Code
UPDATED (3/31/2023) A North Carolina Native American family is fighting against a state-funded charter school’s demand that their first-grade boy gets his hair cut. The school system recently changed its dress and grooming code to define a boy wearing his hair in a bun or braids as “faddish.”
The Lomboy family are members of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe, one of North Carolina’s eight state-recognized tribes. The young boy’s mother, Ashley Lomboy, told Native News Online on Friday that her son, Logan, is embracing the Native American culture through being a powwow dancer and growing his hair — which extends beyond his shoulders —in a traditional way that dates back to how tribal ancestors. Logan has been a student at Classical Charter School - Leland in Leland, NC, for about 18 months.
He attended kindergarten there and is now enrolled in the first grade. The school’s policy was that boys’ hair had to be neat and above the collar. His mother said she puts his hair in a bun to comply with the dress and grooming standards of the school.
The school is owned by its parent company Classical Charters of America, which owns three other schools in North Carolina.Classical Charters of America operates schools in Southport, Whiteville and Wilmington, NC, serving more than 2,500 students. The schools are managed by The Roger Bacon Academy, based in Leland.
According to Logan’s mother, who works for her tribe developing a STEM program, there has been a change in the school’s dress and grooming standard that the Lomboys became aware of on February 20, 2023. That day, as Logan’s father dropped off his two sons at school when a school official verbally told him Logan’s hair needed to be cut due to a change in policy. The official said the school system redefined the word “fad” to include boys’ hair being put in buns or being braided.
The next day, Ashley contacted the school official to seek a waiver to allow Logan to keep his hair length; she was told she had to fill out a grievance form. She complied with the request but has received two denials from the school stating Logan must get his hair cut.
Ashley also told Native News Online that Logan has an 8-year-old brother who chooses to keep his hair short. She said as a family they allow each child to choose how much of their Native culture they want to embrace.
However, in Logan’s case, Ashley said she compares what is happening now by the school system to what has happened to Native Americans historically when the culture was taken, tribal people were moved and ostracized.
“Logan’s hair is an extension of who he is,” Ashley said. “Without his hair, he will lose part of himself and a critical aspect of his heritage. Native Americans have been wearing their hair long since time immemorial. The Waccamaw Siouan Tribe has and continues to steward the land Classical Charter Schools of Leland currently occupies and all the surrounding land of the Cape Fear region for more than 1,000 years. The school’s dismissal of Logan’s identity and our tribal customs is needless, unfair, and deeply offensive to who we are and who our tribe has always been.”
The Waccamaw Siouan Indians Tribe, based in Bolton, NC, sent a letter on behalf of the Lomboy family stating the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe is a sovereign nation with its own unique cultural traditions, including the significance of long hair. The act of cutting one’s hair without proper reason and ceremony is a violation of our beliefs and customs.
“We urge you to make an exception for Logan and any other Native American children who wish to keep their long hair as an expression of their cultural identity,” Waccamaw Siouan Indians Triba; Chair Terry Mitchell wrote in a letter to the school system. “It is important to respect and honor the cultural practices and beliefs of Native American communities, especially when they involve sacred aspects such as keeping our hair long.”
In addition to getting tribal support, Ashley solicited the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The national ACLU and the ACLU of North Carolina issued a statement on March 20, 2023, that stated demanding that Logan cut his hair is in violation of his religious and cultural beliefs, and that Classical Charter Schools of Leland, as a public charter school and recipient of federal education funds, appears to be in violation of the North Carolina Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Two days later, the school system issued a statement on March 20, 2023, pushing back on the actions of the ACLU by calling the organization’s charges “trumped up charges of discrimination.”
“The ACLU seems more interested in creating controversy than resolving it,” said Baker A. Mitchell, President and CEO of The Roger Bacon Academy, which manages the four CCS-A charter schools. “Our schools have procedures for dealing with matters such as these. A review is underway and will be considered by the Board on April 27.
Instead of respecting the process, the ACLU has jumped in with threats and accusations that drive people apart rather than bring them together.”
Native News Online reached out directly to the Roger Bacon Academy for comment, but the school declined our offer of an interview. In an interview with a local television station on Thursday, March 30, Mitchell stood by the school's grooming standards. He said allowing boys to have long hair could get in the way of their education.
“I think allowing them to do wild things with their dress and their hair and their clothing detracts from the real point that we’re trying to achieve,” he told WECT-News 6.
For the moment, Logan Lomboy can return to school without having to cut his hair, pending a decision on April 27, 2023.
Terace Garnier contributed video reporting to this story.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to include a broadcast report on the situation and updated information from the school.
About the Author: "Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print\/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org."