Jessica Oates

Native American Boy Banned From School For Having Long Hair

“I’ve gotten a lot of backlash from the community about this. It has been vile," says mom Jessica Oates.

Millions of children are going back to school this week, but one 4-year-old boy in Texas is being barred from class because his hair is too long hair. Jabez Oates of Mont Belvieu (population 3,835) was told he could no longer attend pre-K at Barbers Hill Independent School District until he got a haircut.

“My family is American-Indian,” Jessica Oates tells CW 39. “We are Cocopah Indian and that was the documentation that I was going to provide for the reason for my son’s long hair. It’s a signal of strength.”

But Jabez’s principal told her that “would no longer be enough.”

“Apparently, the school board is a stickler for rules and can’t think of any religions or cultures that would require long hair,” Jessica said. “I bought him all his school supplies, his school clothes, his backpack and he was enthralled. Now he’s confused as to why he can’t go to school anymore.”

Jessica said when she first enrolled Jabez, she was told he could keep his hair long. “I took him to school and it was no big deal.”

But earlier this month, the school notified her that it “does not allow boys to have long hair and no student, regardless of gender, is allowed to sport any ’inappropriate’ hair accessories,” according to Jessica. So, even with his hair up in a bun, Jabez was reprimanded. “They sent him home on the grounds that that a black hair tie is inappropriate, apparently.”

She’s looking for alternative daycare options, but confesses she’s seen an ugly side to her community.

“I’ve gotten a lot of backlash from the community about this. It has been vile,” says Jessica. “A lot of people have told me to move and get out of here” In addition to raising her son alone, Jessica takes care of her aunt, who has serious health issues. “I can’t home school because I work full-time and I’m trying to find a second job,” she adds. “I’m a single mom, so home-schooling really just isn’t an option. All I have is the public school system and right now, that is absolutely failing my child.”

Superintendent Greg Poole told CW39 that school district policies, including ones about appearance, are written by the board of trustees.

“Parents have a right to seek an appropriate educational setting for their child, just as Ms. Oates has the right to place her child in a district that reflects her personal expectations for standards of appearance,” he added. “There are procedures in place for addressing concerns over policy if it is Ms. Oates’ desire to have her son educated in Barbers Hill ISD. But we would—and should—justifiably be criticized if our district lessened its expectations or longstanding policies simply to appease.”

Long hair is not just a Native American tradition: In orthodox Judaism, is it customary to wait to cut a boy’s hair until he is 3 years old. He then receives his first haircut in a ritual called an upsherin, which also marks the beginning of his wearing a yarmulke and maintaining side locks (peyot).

The Barbers Hill policy, mandates, however that boys must have a haircut above the eyes, ears and neck.

Trish Bendix is a Los Angeles-based writer.