Jonathan Battle had grown out his hair into an Afro and had plans to get it braided when he received his next paycheck.
But one of his teachers at Indiana’s Lawrence Central High School had other ideas, giving him a “fresh” look, the student said. It’s a decision that is unacceptable according to his mother, who said the 17-year-old has autism.
The unauthorized haircut happened Tuesday at the high school, where Jonathan was involved in a bullying incident, according to WTHR. Jonathan was shoved by a student, leading to the 17-year-old grabbing his classmate in self-defense, his mother said. She was called to pick him up after the incident.
When Nikki Battle came to pick up her son, she discovered her son’s “big ol’ beautiful Afro” had been cut, WTHR reported.
“Jonathan said that the gym teacher cut his hair? I’m like, why did you cut his hair?” Battle asked the school, according to WISH-TV. “I’m asking (Jonathan) this, he said, ‘He wanted me to look fresh.’ I’m like, no one consulted with me first. You just violated my son’s First Amendment right.”
The haircut goes against the family’s Hebrew Israelite beliefs, Nikki Battle told the Indianapolis Star. There are now patches on Jonathan’s head, and the teacher nicked part of his face, she said. His eyebrows and facial hair were also cut, WTHR reported.
Nikki Battle said she did not give permission for a teacher to cut her son’s hair and they “had no right” to do so.
“I’m hurting,” Nikki Battle told WISH-TV. “As a parent, as a person, as a human being, I am hurting for him. Because when he was so upset that he started crying in the car, I was done.”
The school responds
The school did not deny a staff member cut Jonathan’s hair. In a statement to WTHR, the school district said it investigated the incident, but did not note any wrongdoing.
“It is not uncommon for school personnel to go above and beyond to meet the needs of students outside of the classroom,” the district said in the statement. “The staff member in question acted with the best of intentions to support the student.”
That statement did not sit well with Jonathan’s mom, who said on Facebook she “can’t believe” the school actually had Jonathan’s best interests in mind.
Jonathan, who has been a member of his wrestling team throughout high school, now refuses to go back to school, according to Nikki Battle. The school has robbed him “of his self esteem, his confidence and all the work that we put in into him gaining his self respect as an individual,” she said.
“I have truly lost all faith in our school system because they don’t look for the best interest of our children,” Nikki Battle said on Facebook.
“That teacher had no right to put his hands nowhere ... on my child’s body,” she added.
’It feels horrible,’ Jonathan says
The school apologized to the family, but Jonathan’s mother told the Indianapolis Star that is not enough. She is pursuing her legal options.
In a similar case, a Michigan parent is suing his 7-year-old daughter’s school district after a teacher cut the biracial girl’s hair without a parent’s permission. The parent, who is suing for $1 million, has alleged racial discrimination against the school.
And in Texas, an 11-year-old received in-school suspension over a hairstyle that is a part of his Native American and African American culture, his mom said. She also called it a “racial issue.”
Jonathan, who allowed the teacher to cut his hair thinking he would fix him up, now wants to finish his senior year of high school virtually, according to WTHR. He told WISH-TV of his new haircut, “It feels horrible.”
“He’s already going through all these challenges already and you throw more in front of him?” Nikki Battle asked the Indianapolis Star. “That’s so unfair.”