Kindergartener's fight for long hair

July 2, 2008 7:59:02 AM PDT
The parents of a kindergartener in Fort Bend County are fighting for his right to have long hair in school. They say it's about freedom of religion. The Needville Independent School District says it needs proof.When Adriel Arocha, 5, was born, his father, Kenney, vowed to teach him his heritage.

"We feel that it's important to raise him as Native American until he's able to make a choice," said Kenny.

And part of that heritage meant he would not to cut his son's hair, believing hair holds spiritual meaning.

"It tells us how long I've been here, by your hair, so it's your history," Adriel said.

"It's our tradition it's what we do," Kenney said.

All that was fine until Adriel's parents planned to enroll the five-year-old at Needville Elementary School. Despite promising to keep his hair neatly braided, the district refused to accept him.

"I knew they would probably be a little difficult but I didn't expect it to be this bad," said his mother Michelle Betenbaugh.

District policy clearly states student's hair needs to be kept out of the eyes.

No hair can cover any part of the ear, a standard collar and no tufts or tails are allowed. The superintendent says exceptions are made for religion, but Adriel's parents have yet to provide proof of their beliefs.

"I was trying to find out what recognized religion they are that discusses they cannot cut their hair and the information I received then was basically it's their choice," said Needville ISD Superintendent Curtis Rhodes.

Near the school some residents felt the district was going too far.

"I don't think longer hair than their ears is going to hurt their education," said Needville resident Jana Hausler.

"If it has to do with his religion, I don't think anyone should infringe on their religious rights," resident Jamie Hausler said.

Adriel's parents say they plan to appeal the decision, even if it means going to court.

"You can't deny a person their rights," Kenney said.

As for Adriel himself, he's pretty clear what he wants.

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