Appeals Court Hears Suit Over Boy's Hairstyle

December 4, 2009

Author: Michael Kunzelman

Source: The Houston Chronicle

Wire Service: AP

A southeast Texas school district asked a federal appeals court Friday to throw out a ruling that its enforcement of a grooming policy violated the rights of a kindergarten student who refuses to cut his hair for religious reasons.

In January, a federal judge in Houston barred the Needville Independent School District from disciplining the boy, a 5-year-old of Native American descent, for wearing his 13-inch hair in two long braids outside his shirt.

The boy's parents, Kenney Arocha and Michelle Betenbaugh, say he has a constitutional right to wear a hairstyle that conforms to his Native American religious beliefs. His father hasn't cut his hair in 11 years, believing his long braids have religious meaning.

A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Friday from lawyers on both sides of the case but didn't immediately rule on the district's appeal.