MT PLEASANT, Mich - A Mount Pleasant dad is outraged after his 7-year-old’s hair was cut twice, once by a student and then again by a staff member in his child’s school.
Both incidents Jimmy Hoffmeyer said happened without his consent. Hoffmeyer also says that his daughter, Jurnee, did not ask that her hair be cut either time.
Hoffmeyer says the first incident happened on March 24. Jurnee came home from school with her hair cut on one side. Hoffmeyer says his daughter explained a little girl on the school bus had cut his child’s hair with scissors.
Jurnee was upset about the haircut. Hoffmeyer took the child to a salon to get her hair adjusted after the first incident. A few days later Jurnee came home once again with her hair cut into a short hairstyle.
"She stated that her teacher cut her hair. I said why? She said to even it out," Hoffmeyer tells Fox 2’s Hilary Golston.
Hoffmeyer would later discover that a school library staff member had cut Jurnee’s hair without parental consent. The school system confirms the child’s homeroom teacher also knew about the library staff member's plans, but neither of them contacted a parent or school administration before taking matters into their own hands.
"I just don’t understand why she thought that a child could make any decisions like that," Hoffmeyer said. "Why is she touching my child period during a Covid pandemic…and without permission… I just don’t understand that part."
Since the incidents, Hoffmeyer has moved his daughter to another school within Mount Pleasant Public Schools and is considering putting the child in a private school. Hoffmeyer says the staff member who cut Jurnee’s hair had made comments about it prior to the child’s hair being cut and Jurnee says she had put products in it before.
"She says it looks pretty," Jurnee said. "It looks prettier straightened," Jimmy clarified Jurnee told him the staff member had explained earlier.
Mount Pleasant Public Schools Superintendent Jennifer Verleger sent a letter home to parents. Fox 2 contacted Verleger who confirmed, it is the district’s statement on the matter. The full letter is dated April 20. It can be found below:
"Dear Mount Pleasant Public Schools families, At Mount Pleasant Public Schools, we strive to ensure all our students can learn and achieve in an inclusive, safe environment free from harassment, discrimination, bigotry, or intolerance. We work hard each day to foster a culture of respect, compassion, and kindness so all our students, families, staff, and visitors feel welcome and supported.
You may be aware of recent media reports and social media posts regarding an incident involving a Ganiard Elementary student. Our district is conducting a full review of this matter including conducting interviews and reviewing videotaped evidence. In the spirit of transparency, I wanted to provide you an update so you can have an accurate and more complete picture of events as we now know them from our ongoing internal review.
On Tuesday, March 23, a Ganiard Elementary student asked her friend who is also an elementary student to cut her hair at school. The friend removed scissors from a classroom without permission and cut a portion of the student’s hair while riding home on a public transportation bus.
The next school day, the principal met with both students to discuss the incident. The student grew unhappy and dissatisfied with the way her hair looked after the other student cut it and asked a school library employee to help fix her hair during a classroom visit to the library.
Rather than declining this request or consulting with the student’s parents or school administrators, the library employee – who is also a cosmetologist – agreed to even out the student’s hair to make her feel better. She brought in professional shears and special barrettes.
Our preliminary review shows the student’s teacher was also aware the library employee was planning to cut the student’s hair. On Friday, March 26, the library employee cut the student’s hair at the student’s request and without obtaining permission from the student’s parents or consulting with school administrators.
Regardless of their good intentions, these actions are unacceptable and show a lack of judgment on the part of our two employees. Both employees have admitted their actions and apologized.
Both are being reviewed for further disciplinary actions in accordance with our school policies and procedures. I have personally apologized to the family on behalf of the school district. Our review is ongoing and we will provide updates as we gather more information."
Since the incident, the story has garnered national and even international attention. Most stories acknowledging Jurnee’s bi-racial heritage.
Golston: "…the race issue… how central do you think it is here… do you think that the fact your daughter is both black and white in a predominantly white environment played a role?
Hoffmeyer: "See that is the hardest question to answer being that I hope that everybody can understand that I really don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I’ve been in the school system my whole life I have experienced some racism… but you always hope that it isn’t the case… you know that maybe it was a misunderstanding… but with the trail of events that has happened it’s so hard to not look at it that way."
Christina Laster, the director of policy and legislation for the National Parents Union, thinks race played a role. The organization represents traditionally marginalized families and communities.
Golston: "There are a lot of things that clearly the school district clearly says went wrong but to say that it was necessarily a racially motivated incident could be a tenuous argument to make. Do you see it this way? Do you see this as a question of racism or a racist act, or do you see it more so as a teacher going outside of the bounds of the way he or she should behave?"
"I see it as a race-based motivated act," Laster said. "Essentially what they’re saying is what naturally grows out of the children’s body or your body is not tolerated."
Laster has become an advocate for Jurnee since the story gained traction.
"We battle for what’s right fair and just for parents and students," Laster said.
Her organization stands behind passing the Crown Act a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination. So far the legislation has become law in 10 states and has been filed or pre-filed in 24 other states, including Michigan.
Hoffmeyer also stands behind passing the Crown Act across the nation.
"This Crown Act is going to stop those discriminating people," Hoffmeyer said. "Why is it we’re not addressing the perpetrator and fixing their actions instead of trying to fix my daughter to their satisfaction."