Mom complains about hair but new information shows student faces battery chargesMarch 16, 2017
Neville High School came under fire this week as national news outlets report of a discrimination complaint made by a parent. Bonnie Kirk, an employee at Swanson Correctional Center, reached out to blogger Shaun King, senior justice writer for the New York Daily News, with her complaint. His blog on the issue has led to the story being shared on radio talk shows of hosts Tom Joyner and Rickey Smiley. She claims that her son is being denied access to an education because of the color of his hair, that school officials have repeatedly harassed him because he won’t comply to their rules and that students aren’t allowed to eat lunch. In King’s article, Kirk also accused the school of suspending her son, attempting to expel him, and barring him from participation on the football team. Despite her claims of discrimination, her son is facing simple battery charges from an incident that occurred at school which has nothing to do with his hairstyle.
Is there a hair problem at Neville?
Kirk’s son, Jaylon Sewell, is a 16-year-old junior at Neville. He wears his hair blond, similar to NFL player Odell Beckham. Kirk said that according to Roosevelt Rankins, the Dean of Students, this hairstyle is against the school’s dress code. Kirk told our reporter this week that Rankins has been systematically targeting her son and has been attempting to coerce teachers to submit false referrals to indict the student because he won’t cut his hair. She said that on one occasion, her son was sent to the office to complete an exam and Rankins wanted his teacher to write a referral on the student to say that he was having behavior problems. Kirk said the teacher would not participate in the action. She also said that on another occasion there were other African-American students who did not comply with the school’s hair policy and were tardy several times to class, near suspension. She said that Rankins made a deal with the students that if they would cut their hair, the tardies would disappear.
Dr. Dawson looks at hair
Wright’s Publishing investigative reporter, Robert Wright, met with officials at Neville High School this week and they denied the allegations made by Kirk. Dr. Christella Dawson, principal, along with Rankins, said that students at her school are not being scrutinized because of their hairstyles. She stood near the window in the student lounge on Tuesday and pointed out what she claimed was a false accusation on Kirk’s part. “Mr. Wright, come over here and look at this,” she asked. She pointed to a number of African-American students throughout the campus during lunch time with an assortment of hairstyles and colors. “Look at that. How many colors of hair do you see. There’s blue over there and purple over there. There’s one with braids. There’s one with an Afro. We don’t have a hair problem here,” Dawson said.
The Dress Code
According to the Monroe City Schools’ Student Handbook, student hairstyles are subjective in nature. The handbook states that “hair should be neat, well-groomed, and clean all times and shall not obstruct the face.” It further states that numbers, designs, symbols, words, and phrases cut in the hair which are offensive or disrupt the educational process shall not be allowed. It also states that hair styles and hair dyed outlandish colors which cause a disruption to the educational process shall not be allowed.
Kirk complains to Shelling
According to students, Rankins informed them at the close of the 2015-2016 school year that they should not report back to school during the 2016-2017 school year with multi-colored hair. One student said that he was denied class schedules in August of 2016 until he complied with the school’s policy. Numerous other students were flagged during the first week because of their hair. Kirk said that her son was pulled out of class and was made to sit in the student’s common area and not allowed to eat lunch. She told our reporter this week that in August, she complained to School Board Member Brenda Shelling and Shelling asked Superintendent Brent Vidrine to address the situation.
Superintendent Vidrine said that he was asked to address the hair complaint during the first week of school in August. He said that he reported to the school and met with Kirk and another woman regarding her son not being able to get in class. “I asked her where was her son. She said that he was in class,” Vidrine explained. He said that he was puzzled that Kirk wanted him to pull the student out of class to address a complaint about him not being able to attend class. Kirk told King that Vidrine asked her why she chose to allow her son to dye his hair and that he would not be able to get a job in corporate America with that chosen hairstyle. “That was never said,” Vidrine responded. He said that he ensured Kirk that her son would be able to attend class despite his hair color. “I thought that situation was settled and that would be the end of it,” Vidrine said. He said that he heard no more about hair complaints at Neville until recent allegations.
Wright’s Publishing, Co. asked Kirk about her son’s activities at school and whether or not he had behavioral problems. She said that her son had not been in trouble in school and was not a behavior problem. She then testified about an incident involving her son, another student, and a cell phone. She said other than that incident, which she saw as irrelevant, there were no behavioral problems and the accusations she is making about the school are centered around discrimination and the harassment about her son’s hair.
Football team manager
Sewell was one of the managers for the Neville High School football team during the 2016-2017 football season. Neville High School coach Mickey McCarty spoke to us this week and had high regards for the student. McCarty said that he had no problem with the student’s hair color and that it was not an issue in the classroom no more than it was during his involvement with the team. He said many of his players have an array of hairstyles and they are allowed to be at school with them.
“He was accountable and dependable,” McCarty said of Sewell. He said that the student worked along the players as an assistant and traveled with the team throughout the season. He told our reporter that it wasn’t until the student was suspended from school in November that he was not allowed to travel with the team during Semi-Finals and to New Orleans for the Championship Game. Despite being suspended from school and denied travel to the final games, Sewell was recognized in February of 2017 at the annual Football Banquet for his contributions to the team.
The Police Report
On cue of Kirk’s testimony about the incident involving the cell phone, Wright’s Publishing Co. obtained an incident report from the Monroe Police Department. The incident spotlighted her son as not a student being unjustly scrutinized because of his hair, but one who was the perpetrator in an action of accused simple battery that was caught on videotape. The incident in question took place on November 14, 2016 on the school campus and a police officer was dispatched to the school to investigate a claim made by the parent of female student involved.
According to the Monroe Police Department, on November 18, 2016 at 11:20 AM, an officer was called to Neville High School in reference to an investigation. Upon arrival, the officer made contact with a juvenile female and her mother. The girl told the officer that on November 14, 2016, she was in second period and due to her drinking a lot of water, she asked her teacher could she go to the restroom. The girl advised that her second period class was in the basement but she had to use the first floor restroom because every stall in the basement restroom was occupied. The girl went on to state that while walking to the restroom on the first floor, she came into contact with the juvenile boy who also was out of class. She stated that he is a friend that she communicates with via text message from time to time and he asked her could he come in the restroom with her and she replied, “NO” then walked into the restroom.
He wanted to see her private part
The girl stated that when she walked out of the restroom, heading back to class, the boy was waiting on her. She stated that while walking to class, the boy pulled her into the stairwell and asked her to let him touch her private part. She advised that she said “NO” again and attempted to walk away and that’s when the boy attempted several times pulling her down the stairs into an area that the cameras were not able to see. The girl stated that while resisting the boy, she pulled her phone out of her pocket and sat it on the steps so it wouldn’t fall down the stairs and break. She stated that the boy picked up her cell phone and insisted on her coming to the area where there were no cameras to get her phone back. She stated that she ran back up the stairs, then the boy came behind her and pulled her leg causing her shoe to come off of her foot. She stated that after the boy took her shoe, he left out of that stairwell and went into another one trying to pull her down the stairs. She stated that several minutes later, a teacher came down the stairs and retrieved her belongings then they went to class.
The officer on the scene wrote that he observed these actions on school video cameras and notated every action in a minute-by-minute play. According to the officer, he was not able to contact the boy due to him being suspended on the date of the incident. The officer also included in his report that he is facing simple battery charges.
Neville Principal Dawson said that because of the nature of the incident, she had no choice but to recommend Sewell for expulsion. Dawson said that the system overturned the recommendation and the student was not expelled from school. Wright’s Publishing Co. spoke to Sam Moore, Monroe City Schools Director of Child Welfare and Attendance this week. Because of the student’s privacy, he would not speak of any specific expulsion hearing involving any student. He assured our staff that no student in Monroe City Schools during the 2016-2017 school year has been disciplined, suspended, or expelled because of their hairstyle. However, he said that there are a number of reasons why a student would be recommended for Level 3 disciplinary action. He said that Level 3 offenses are so serious in nature that there is not a step process. He described Level 3 offenses as those including: bringing weapons to campus, improper bodily contact, possession of pornography, assault on a teacher, and assault on a student. He said that schools can recommend expulsion but it is up to his committee to approve it or deny it.
Kirk’s Federal Complaint
Nearly two weeks after the November 18, 2016 police investigation into the campus incident, Kirk filed a formal complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Her complaint with Tyler Clemons, in the Dallas Office, was filed on November 29, 2016. In her complaint, Kirk alleged that the Monroe City Schools District, through its officials at Neville High School, discriminated against her son on the basis of race (African-American) by refusing to allow him to attend class with dyed hair when white students with dyed hair were allowed to attend class. The complaint also alleged that the District, through its officials at Neville High School, discriminated against her son on the basis of sex (male) by refusing to allow him to attend class with dyed hair when many African-American girls were allowed to attend class despite having multicolored weave in their hair. The complaint finally alleges that the District retaliated against Kirk’s son for her complaints about racial discrimination to the District by suspending him, attempting to expel him, and barring him from participation with the football team.
Principal Dawson said that she was disheartened by Sewell’s actions and by claims from his mother that he was being treated unfairly at Neville. “That’s my little buddy,” Dawson said of Sewell. She said that she often praised him and gave him hugs and that he helped her set up the auditorium for school programs. Dawson said that Sewell had become distraught because she didn’t show him the same affections as she did in the beginning of the school year. When she sees male students on the hall out of line, she is often heard saying “Hey boy, pull up your pants” or “Hey boy get to class.” “That’s the way I talk to them,” Dawson said. She said it is not done in a demeaning way. Recently, she referred to Sewell as “boy” and it disturbed him so much that he complained about it to Kirk.
In an email written to Dawson on Sunday night, Kirk was upset and told Dawson that she knew her son’s name and that she would not refer to him as “Hey Boy”. That she was upset with the school about his hair color or about the November incident was never mentioned in the email released one day prior to Shaun King’s blog about the discrimination charge. She was upset that Dawson called her son “Hey Boy”. Dawson was in tears and said that she means well by all of her students and wants the best for them. However, the recent allegations about the school’s climate is taking a toll on her.
The Monroe City School district is currently under Federal Review because of a desegregation order. The current allegations of discrimination at the only fully integrated high school in the district only adds more speculation into its operation. The number of complaints made by students at the school in regards to the school’s dress code warrant a mention and investigation. However, the wealth of facts surrounding the incidents of Kirk’s claim point to a situation that is not solely based on the accusation of discrimination but one of a criminal nature that has not been reported to the national news media. Kirk’s son is in class at Neville, tests have been taken, grades have been recorded in the system, and his hair is still blonde, despite the claims being made by national media outlets.
Robert Wright is a reporter with Wright’s Publishing Co. (Parent Company to The Monroe Free Press and Consulting Partner to Black Boot News) and is a Graduate Student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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