An incident that a representative from the National Parents Union equated to a “modern day scalping”—or at the very least, a violation of a young child’s bodily autonomy—has been dismissed as a misfiring of “good intentions.” That is, according to officials from Michigan’s Mount Pleasant Public Schools.
As The Root reported in April, the controversy began when 7-year-old Jurnee Hoffmeyer came home from school in tears and with significantly shorter hair, after the school’s librarian had taken it upon herself to “even out” the girl’s asymmetrical curly hairstyle. The incident added insult to existing injury, as Jurnee’s hair had also been snipped just days before by a classmate on the bus, causing her father to take her to get the asymmetrical style professionally cut.
“I asked what happened and said ‘I thought I told you no child should ever cut your hair,’” explained father Jimmy Hoffmeyer. “She said, ‘but Dad, it was the teacher.’ The teacher cut her hair to even it out.”
Compounding the issue, both the classmate and the librarian are white, while Jurnee is biracial. The incident quickly went viral, with Jimmy, who is of Black and white ethnicity himself (Jurnee’s mother is white) making the media rounds in defense of his daughter, who he’d removed from the school as a result.
“I’m not one to try to make things about race,” he said at the time. “I’ve pretty much grown up with only white people, myself.” Nevertheless, after a rash of incidents in which the hair of Black students has been policed and often violated in similar ways, many understandably felt bias might be at play—especially given that the racial demographics of Mount Pleasant are currently only four percent Black.
Per the New York Post, “A staffer for the National Parents Union, a network of groups and activists advocating on behalf [of] children, equated the March haircutting incidents to a ‘modern-day scalping’ while insisting they were racially motivated.”
Unsurprisingly, the results of an MPPS investigation—which reportedly “included interviews with district staff, students and their families, as well as a review of video, photographic evidence and social media posts, district officials said”—came to a different conclusion.
“It’s clear from the third-party investigation and the district’s own internal investigation that MPPS employees had good intentions when performing the haircut,” school board officials said in a statement issued Friday to MLive.com. “Regardless, their decisions and actions are unacceptable and show a major lack of judgment. The employees involved have acknowledged their wrong actions and apologized.”
While denying that the librarian acted with racial bias, she has reportedly been placed on a “last chance” employment agreement, “meaning any future infraction will likely result in her termination,” reports the Post. Two other school employees who failed to report the incident received “written reprimands.”
“We believe a last chance agreement is appropriate given that the employee has an outstanding record of conduct and has never once been reprimanded in more than 20 years of work at MPPS,” said the school’s board.
However, according to Jimmy Hoffmeyer, the district’s investigations did not include interviews with either father or daughter. “They never questioned my daughter or me,” he told the Associated Press on Friday. “Who did they talk to? Did they really do an investigation?”
“A white employee and white administrators being investigated by a nearly all-white school board who hired an unknown ‘independent investigator’ is not an appropriate lens by which to evaluate this situation,” NPU officials added via a statement to MLive.com, calling the results of the investigation a “slap on the wrist” compared to the potential “lifelong trauma” for Jurnee.
“Jurnee must and will have justice,” the statement added.