Sammy Nickalls
September 20, 2015 8:32 am

Earlier this past week, seven-year-old Jakobe Sanden walked into second grade at Arrowhead Elementary School in Santa Clara, Utah rockin’ a brand new backpack and a rad haircut — a Mohawk, which represented his family’s roots. The Sandens are Native American, and the haircut was a symbol of his heritage. . . but it got him sent to the principal’s office due to a violation of school policy. His mother, Teyawnna, was called by the school, who asked her to cut Jakobe’s hair to a more acceptable style.

Teyawnna took to Facebook to express her anger. “So f’n irritated right now,” she wrote. “. . . Really? It’s hair! Let’s see how this goes. . .”

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Thus began the Sanden’s fight against the school. Teyawnna called her husband, 43-year-old Gary Sanden, who was out of town — and he called the superintendent to explain the situation. “I told the superintendent I was in no means going to cut his hair because it’s a symbol of who we are,” his father, 43-year-old Gary Sanden, told The Washington Post. “. . . It’s ironic the school is named Arrowhead.”

“I have two [sons] who go to Arrowhead,” Gary explained to USA Today. “My other boy, he’s 10, didn’t want a Mohawk and went with the non-native haircut, kind of high and tight. So the principal says well, you have another son here who doesn’t have a Mohawk, why can’t you cut [the younger boy’s] hair that way too.”

Teyawnna is a member of the Kaibab Band of Paiutes Indians, while her husband is a member of the Seneca Tribe. “I was sympathetic to what they were saying — that it was not conducive to learning,” Gary told The Washington Post. “But I couldn’t understand how it could be a distraction to the kids.”

“We had the students that weren’t used to [the haircut],” school principal Susan Harrah told Fox affiliate KSTU. “They had called that out. So the teacher brought the student to my attention.”

The foundation of the school’s argument was shaky, at best. Arrowhead’s online handbook doesn’t mention hair length or styles — only color — but has a more vague statement: “Students have the responsibility to avoid grooming that causes a distraction or disruption, interrupting school decorum and adversely affecting the educational process. . . Extremes in body piercings, hair styles and hair colors may be considered a distraction or disruption.”

According to Arrowhead assistant superintendent Rex Wilkey, the policy allows teachers and officials decide what is “distracting.” “We try to reflect the values and norms of the community,” he explained to USA Today. “Some things are a little more clear cut, and some things are a little more controversial. You try to manage it the best you can. Kids come in dressed all kinds of ways and it can be an issue for the school.”

The superintendent told Gary to get a letter from the leaders of the tribe supporting the Sanden’s argument. “It’s just a procedure that we use,” Harrah told KSTU. “As there could be several different cultures that have different beliefs, so we just need to have some documentation.”

But, as Gary pointed out to The Washington Post, this was a feat indeed. “That’s like calling up the governor of our state,” he said. But both he and his wife contacted their tribe leaders, leading to Seneca Nation Tribal Councilor William Canella penning a letter to the superintendent.

“From past centuries to the modern era, Native boys have worn their hair in various lengths and styles to demonstrate their pride in their heritage,” Canella wrote. “It is common for Seneca boys to wear a Mohawk because after years of discrimination and oppression, they are proud to share who they are. It’s disappointing that your school does not view diversity in a positive manner, and it is our hope that Jakobe does not suffer from any discrimination by the school administration or faculty as a result of his hair cut.”

Since then, the issue has been resolved, and Jakobe has not been sent home from school, but the parents had to “jump through hurdles” to keep it that way, they told The Washington Post. The principal, however, believes that it was handled efficiently. “It was a positive experience I think for all of us, I felt like, and the student went back to class, and it was over,” Harrah told KSTU.

(Images via Twitter.)