A Lawsuit Alleges That an Albuquerque Middle School Discriminated Against a Black Student Due to Her Hair

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A federal lawsuit has been filed against Albuquerque’s public school district, accusing the district of discriminating against a Black student due to her hair.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Saturday that the lawsuit was filed last month in New Mexico’s U.S. District Court, which has scheduled a hearing on the case to take place in late August. It stems from a punishment the girl received over purple streaks in her braided hair, the newspaper reports.

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From the New Mexican:

According to the complaint, the 13-year-old girl, who is Black, was placed on an in-school suspension at Cleveland Middle School in December 2019 for having the purple highlights in her hair, on the grounds that the hair coloring violated school policy. However, the suit says, other students with similar hair coloring who were not Black were not disciplined by school officials.

The girl has experienced emotional distress and no longer feels welcome at the school, the complaint says.

It seeks an award for compensatory damages and other relief and asks the court to order the Albuquerque school board to end disciplinary practices that disproportionately target minority students. It also asks that the court order the board to regularly report its efforts to comply.

The complaint claims that this wasn’t the first time that Albuquerque Public Schools has unfairly disciplined Black students, according to the New Mexican.

It says U.S. Department of Education data shows African American students made up 2.5 percent of Albuquerque Public Schools’ population in 2018-19 but accounted for 4.3 percent of in-school suspensions. It cites similar numbers at Cleveland Middle School.

Hair discrimination–which the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund describes as “rooted in systemic racism” and only serves to “preserve white spaces”–is nothing new. That’s why some states have either proposed or passed legislation upholding the CROWN Act, which prohibits workplaces and educational institutions from discriminating against Black people for their natural hair.

As of July, 13 states have passed a variation of the CROWN Act. This includes New Mexico.

Whether the federal court will consider this case a violation of the CROWN Act is ultimately up to the court. But, at the very least, the fact that this girl received an in-school suspension for something the school could have easily remedied in a way that didn’t make her feel embarrassed and unfairly treated is a given.