MOUNT PLEASANT, MI — Earlier this year, a 7-year-old biracial girl attending a Mount Pleasant grade school had her hair cut first by a fellow student, then by a school librarian. The matter sparked outrage and substantial public outcry, with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights taking notice.
Now, the Mount Pleasant Public Schools Board of Education has announced a third-party investigation into the incident has concluded, finding the librarian who cut the student’s hair did not act with racial bias and thus gets to keep her job.
“We truly appreciate the support and patience by our students, staff and families while an independent, third-party investigation was conducted regarding an incident at Ganiard Elementary School,” the board wrote in a statement issued the afternoon of Friday, July 2. “As your Board, we have made every effort to address this matter with the seriousness and care it deserves and with the transparency our community expects.”
The precipitating incident saw Jurnee Hoffmeyer on March 24 arrive home from Ganiard Elementary School, 101 S. Adams St., with the hair on one side of her head cut off. Jurnee told her father, Jimmy Hoffmeyer, that a female student had cut her hair while they were on the bus, doing so with scissors she had taken from a classroom. Hoffmeyer took his daughter to a barber, who provided Jurnee with an asymmetrical cut.
Two days later, Jurnee returned home a second time with nearly all her hair cut off down to a few inches from her scalp. Jurnee told her father her library teacher had cut off her remaining hair.
Jurnee is biracial and had long, curly hair prior to it being cut. Hoffmeyer is Black and white and Jurnee’s mother is white. The school staffer who cut Jurnee’s hair is also white.
Jimmy Hoffmeyer removed his daughter from Ganiard following the incident and enrolled her in a different school.
“The third-party independent investigation included interviews with and feedback from district personnel, students, families as well as a review of video and photographic evidence including social media posts,” the board stated.
The investigation’s key findings are as follows:
· On March 26, an elementary student’s hair was cut by a MPPS employee without parent knowledge and without the knowledge of district administrators.
· Cutting a student’s hair on school grounds either with or without parent permission is a clear violation of school policy.
· There is no evidence the incident was motivated by racial bias.
The board added that the third-party inquiry was performed in addition to an internal review by the school district’s administration. That probe included conducting interviews and reviewing video footage and photographic evidence.
“The key takeaways in both reviews are consistent,” the board stated.
The board ruled to place the librarian on a “last chance” employment agreement, during which time any future violations “will likely result in termination.” Superintendent Jennifer Verleger recommended the discipline and was supported by the board.
“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,” the board wrote. “In addition, Superintendent Verleger has recommended and the Board has accepted written reprimands for two additional MPPS employees who were aware of the incident but did not alert the student’s parents or the Administration.”
The reprimands will go into the employees’ files.
The incident and resulting investigations have led the district to clarify its policies and engage in professional development to prevent similar occurrences from happening.
“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,” the board wrote. “Regardless, their decisions and actions are unacceptable and show a major lack of judgement. The employees involved have acknowledged their wrong actions and apologized.”
Verleger has also apologized personally to Jurnee’s family on behalf of the district.
“Our main purpose with the independent investigation has been to bring the facts to light, learn from this incident and make our district even stronger,” the board wrote. “To achieve our mission of providing a world-class education to all MPPS students, we must continuously strive to improve and acknowledge when we have not lived up to our own high standards.”
The board announced their findings the day before National Crown Act Day. The act’s name is a backronym for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” States including California, Washington, New York, Virginia, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey and Connecticut have adopted the Crown Act as law.
In Michigan, a Crown Act bill was sponsored by state Rep. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing and reintroduced in February. Ingham County on March 23 passed a resolution to become the first county in the state to ban hair discrimination against public employees.
The National Parents Union, self-described as “a network of highly effective parent organizations and grassroots activists across the country that is united behind a set of common goals and principles to channel the power of parents,” has been involved in the matter since Jurnee’s father contacted them in mid-April. The NPU issued a statement balking at the board’s claims.
“The Mount Pleasant Public Schools’ ‘independent investigator’ did not conduct an interview with the victim of this assault or her parents to get their account of the assault by their employee or the subsequent coverup by the district,” the NPU stated, adding they do not agree with the investigation’s findings.
The NPU expressed disbelief in MPPS’ statement of being committed to ensuring their schools are safe and welcoming to all students.
“They have failed to include Jurnee Hoffmeyer and other students like her…,” the NPU wrote. “We (see) this common use of ‘all students’ as rhetorical when there have been no active steps to ensure the well-being of Jurnee Hoffmeyer. Contrary to their statement, and in another stunning act of disrespect to the Hoffmeyer family, no apology or communication has happened with the family despite the claims of the superintendent.”
The NPU reiterated its support for federal Crown Act legislation.
“The librarian is still gainfully employed with nothing more than a slap on the wrist while the consequences of her actions will be lifelong trauma for Jurnee Hoffmeyer as the result of this assault,” the NPU wrote. “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.
“Jurnee must and will have justice,” the NPU concluded.
After news of Jurnee’s haircut broke, Michigan Department of Civil Rights Director James E. White said his agency was looking into the matter. At the time, White voiced his support for Michigan to adopt the Crown Act, saying the situation shows legislation is needed “to make it clear that discriminating against a person because their hairstyle does not conform with dominant cultural standards is discrimination based on race.”
MLive could not reach a Michigan Department of Civil Rights spokesperson for comment on Saturday, July 3.
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