Judge Allows Lakota Hair Cutting Case to Move Forward

Nov. 18, 2021, 5:04 p.m. ·

lakota family holding hands with backs to the camera walking down a dirt road
The family switched to a South Dakota school. Alice Johnson and Norma LeRoy cross the border to drop off their children at school. (Photo courtesy of ACLU of Nebraska)

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Last year, two Native American girls in Kilgore, Nebraska had their hair cut at school without their parents’ permission. That action prompted a First Amendment lawsuit in which the girls’ parents said their family’s religious rights were violated.

In Spring 2020, the secretary for the Cody-Kilgore School District cut Norma LeRoy and Alice Johnson’s daughters hair for a lice check, without their permission. The family is part of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and practices Lakota religion. Their culture believes hair is a sacred symbol. Hair is only cut in certain, specific, circumstances. The mothers filed a lawsuit with the help of the ACLU of Nebraska this year. They claimed the school engaged in unlawful racial discrimination and violated their religious freedom. Lead attorney Rose Godinez said the judge declined the school’s request to dismiss the claims last week.

"This order that we recently received, clearly states that school employees were on notice that their unwritten head lice check policy violated students' religious beliefs, and they repeated that behavior," she said.

Alice Johnson said the judge’s decision was a relief for the family.

"The biggest thing that we're hoping for is that these kinds of actions stop. We want it to stop against our children," Johnson said. "We want people to understand that every race, every tradition, every culture, everybody has their own beliefs and that needs to be respected."

The school has about a month to respond to the claims.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story said the two Native American girls were in Cody, Nebraska, when they were in Kilgore at the time. The family is also part of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. They practice Lakota religion. We regret this error.