HOUSTON (CN) – A black student claims in a federal lawsuit that white administrators at his Texas junior high school humiliated him and violated his civil rights by coloring in a stylized line in his haircut with a black Sharpie.
Dante Trice and Angela Washington sued Pearland Independent School District and three employees Sunday in Galveston federal court on behalf of their son Juelz Trice. The family is represented by Houston attorney Randall Kallinen.
The parents say Juelz went to Berry Miller Junior High School with a fresh fade haircut with a swooping M shaved into one side of his head on April 17, and then-assistant principal Tony Barcelona approached him in the school cafeteria.
Barcelona, who has since been promoted to school principal, allegedly told him to go to the office because he was in violation of the school dress code.
Juelz had never been sent to the office before as he was a good student who had never been disciplined, his parents claim.
They say the school’s “discipline clerk” Helen Day took him into her office and showed him a copy of the dress code, and said his haircut was out of compliance with the code.
Day and Barcelona then gave Juelz a choice: Be placed in in-school suspension, which involves a student sitting in one classroom all day and missing their normal classes, or let them color in his scalp with a marker, according to the complaint.
“Neither Principal Barcelona nor Discipline Clerk Day informed J.T. that he could appeal the proposed suspension/head coloring or have a meeting or hearing about the matter or that he could contact his parents for their advice,” the lawsuit states.
The parents say school staff had their phone numbers, but no one called them before they broke out the marker.
Juelz ran track at the school and feared a suspension would result in him getting kicked off the team, and he did not want to get in trouble with his parents so he agreed to the marker, according to the complaint.
But he says Day used a jet-black Sharpie that did not match his brown skin and did not hide the design, it only made it stand out.
The couple says as Day colored, with Barcelona looking on, teacher Jeanette Peterson stopped by the office and all three of them started laughing at Juelz.
“J.T. was not laughing but very frightened of these three much larger Pearland ISD employees coloring his scalp jet black,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit names the school district, Barcelona, Day and Peterson as defendants.
After they released Juelz, other students noticed his hair and some of them made rude comments to him about it, and one even called him a “thug,” his parents allege.
His mother Angela Washington says she called the superintendent to talk about the incident and emailed then-Principal Kim Brooks requesting a meeting. Brooks replied stating she had passed the email on to the superintendent.
But no one contacted Washington, even after the family’s attorney, Kallinen, sent a certified letter to the school board and superintendent, demanding monetary damages and for school staff to undergo racial sensitivity training, according to the complaint.
Houston’s ABC affiliate interviewed Juelz’s parents and ran a story one week after the incident, citing a statement from the school that “the practice is not condoned by the district” and Barcelona had been placed on administrative leave.
But school officials apparently saw no need to discipline Barcelona.
“Despite substantial media attention Principal Barcelona has since been promoted to head principal at J.T.’s school. Discipline Clerk Day and Peterson still have the same positions in the Pearland ISD,” the lawsuit states.
The district changed its dress code in May, removing this sentence: “Extreme hair styles such as carvings, mohawks, spikes, etc. are not allowed,” according to the complaint.
Juelz and his parents seek damages for alleged civil rights violations, excessive force and assault.
They also want the district’s dress code declared unconstitutional and it ordered to immediately train all its staff that “students have the right to a fade haircut with a non-offensive line design.”
Pearland is a Houston suburb. Of its school district’s 21,559 students, 15% are African-American, according to the Texas Tribune.
The school district said in a statement Monday afternoon it had not yet been served with the lawsuit. “Upon receipt, it will be reviewed by our legal counsel. No further comment will be provided at this time,” it said.
Kallinen and Juelz’s parents are holding a press conference about the lawsuit Monday at 2 p.m. in front of a Pearland ISD office building.