A school district in central Michigan is in hot water after two White staff members secretly butchered the hair of a biracial first grader. Jimmy Hoffmeyer was shocked to see his seven-year-old daughter walk through the door on March 26. His daughter’s curly hair was chopped within inches of her scalp; the work of women who clearly didn’t have the first idea of how to care for the hair of a Black child.
It was just two days after the Hoffmeyer family had to deal with an unfortunate haircutting incident on the school bus. On March 24, Jurnee Hoffmeyer was on the bus heading home from Ganiard Elementary School in Mount Pleasant, Mich. when a classmate cut her hair. Jurnee’s long curly hair was cut several inches on one side to around shoulder length. When she got home that day, her family was stunned to see what had happened. But Jurnee’s father took her straight to the salon and let her choose a new look.
School staff cuts child’s hair without father’s permission
“I know how today’s society is,” Hoffmeyer said. “I wasn’t going to let my little girl go to school with half of her hair cut off.” Jurnee was upset, but she felt good about being able to choose a new style. Hoffmeyer reached out to the school administration and transportation offices to figure out what happened. He was upset but simply asked that the child not be allowed to sit next to his daughter again.
Two days later, Jurnee walked in crying. Hoffmeyer, clearly shaken, discussed the look on his daughters face that day. “I don’t think there are words to express how I felt in that moment,” Hoffmeyer said. “I asked if the girl on the bus had cut her hair again, and she said, ‘no. My library teacher cut my hair.’ I couldn’t believe it. I jumped in the car to go to the school but realized it was spring break. I couldn’t get ahold of anyone, so I called the cops.” The library teacher, listed as a media specialist on the school’s website, is Kelly Mogg.
Hoffmeyer emailed Jurnee’s teacher, Kristen Jacobs, to let her know he was filing a police report. Minutes later, he said, the principal’s secretary called him. He recalled the secretary saying she was in “utter disbelief.” But the principal would not be available to talk to him until after spring break – a week later.
Father demands justice
Finally, spring break ended and Hoffmeyer got a call from Ganiard Principal Marcy Stout. “She apologized and said she didn’t know why they would do that,” Hoffmeyer said. “I asked what was going to be done about it and she said they would probably get a mark in their progress folder or something. And that any further actions would need to go through the superintendent. So, I told her I want the superintendent to call me.” Mount Pleasant Public Schools superintendent is Jennifer Verleger.
Hoffmeyer wanted his daughter out of the school and away from the staff who hurt his daughter. “It’s been insulting. The superintendent called and sounded very insincere and short. She asked if it would make us feel better if she had the teachers send ‘I’m sorry’ cards in the mail,” Hoffmeyer said.
Between the principal, superintendent and teachers, the microaggressions kept coming. “The principal tried to convince us to keep her in the school. She said Jurnee would be safe there and offered to follow her around to make sure nothing happened to her,” said Hoffmeyer. “How is the solution to punish my kid?”
National Parents Union joins the fight
Hoffmeyer continues to face stonewalling from the Mount Pleasant School District. He’s requested to see footage from the bus incident. He was told administrators had viewed it and there was really nothing for him to see. The “we know best” attitude towards this Black father mirrors the paternalistic White supremacy displayed by the staff who cut Jurnee’s hair.
Through the experience, the Hoffmeyer family hasn’t found any allies in the district. But once Jurnee’s story reached the National Parents Union, they leaned all the way in to help get #JusticeForJurnee. In a recent statement, NPU Director of Policy and Legislation said “No child should have to experience this type of humiliating ordeal because of their hair texture, style, or type! The adults entrusted with her learning crossed the line, didn’t protect her, and had no desire to be accountable for their actions.” NPU is currently seeking a civil rights attorney for the Hoffmeyer family. They have sent formal requests to the district for evidence from the incident.
In the meantime, Jurnee has switched schools and started going to counseling. “We’ve had to take her to the doctor because she hasn’t been eating. She’s having trouble sleeping now and always wants to be with us. All of this because her hair didn’t look how they thought it should, wasn’t done to their standards. If you look at pictures of her before this happened, you can just see her spark and her energy. Now it’s like it’s just gone.”
NPU is calling on Michigan lawmakers to enact the CROWN Act to protect students from this type of racial discrimination.
According to an update from CNN, the Mount Pleasant School District chose not to fire the employee in a lengthy statement which read in part, “As a result of the district’s investigation, the employee who cut the student’s hair will be placed on a “last chance” agreement during which time any future violations will likely result in termination.”
However, the family says they weren’t contacted during any part of the investigation. The family is currently pursuing a state investigation with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
We cannot discuss the particulars of a complaint while it remains under investigation,” said Vicki Levengood, communications director for the department. “We can say, however, that our Community Engagement Director will be in contact with the school administration again this week to assess the situation and to assist with training and educational opportunities that we believe may help prevent an incident of this type from occurring in the future.”