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Lakota Racial Justice and Religious Freedom Case Headed for Trial

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Thursday, December 16, 2021   

ROSEBUD, Neb. -- A lawsuit accusing a Nebraska school district of violating a Lakota family's First Amendment rights and unlawful racial discrimination is headed to court.

The suit was filed after a school employee cut two girls' hair during school lice checks, even after the parents raised concerns.

Rose Godinez, interim legal director for the ACLU of Nebraska, the group representing the family associated with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, explained hair is considered a sacred symbol that should only be cut by specific people under certain conditions.

"The family explicitly told the school district to stop cutting the students' hair, because it violated their beliefs," Godinez explained. "And despite their pleas, the school district continued to cut the two girls' hair multiple times."

A federal judge recently rejected the Cody Kilgore Unified School District's qualified immunity defense, which shields public officials from liability, clearing the way for the case to proceed to trial.

School officials have claimed educators were simply doing their job protecting public health. The school's written head-lice policy includes no mention of cutting hair.

Godinez noted even though school employees were on clear notice their actions violated students' religious beliefs, the policy was only applied to Native American students. She added the events also brought back historic trauma for the family, when Native American children were forced to assimilate in boarding schools.

"That has been very heavy for them, but they have remained strong in seeking justice not only for their two daughters but also for all Native American students in our schools right now," Godinez stressed.

The judge dismissed a claim the students' due-process protections were violated, but wrote claims focused on free exercise of religion and racial discrimination should move forward. Godinez acknowledged she is looking forward to arguing the case in court, because she believes all students have a right to live true to their beliefs and cultures at school.

Disclosure: ACLU of Nebraska contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Immigrant Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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