School district settles Native American hair cutting lawsuit

Oct. 4, 2023, 7 p.m. ·

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Two Native American families have settled a lawsuit against the Cody-Kilgore Schools after a staff member cut the hair of Native American children without the permission of their parents.

The federal civil rights case brought national attention to the northern Nebraska Community.

The settlement includes nearly a quarter-million dollars in relief to the families as well as changes in school policies.

Johnson, LeRoy, and their children walk together in Kilgore, Nebraska. (Courtesy ACLU Nebraska)

Two parents, Alice Johnson and Norma LeRoy, filed the complaint in Nebraska’s Federal District Court on behalf of their daughters. All are Lakota tribal members affiliated with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

In 2020 an elementary school secretary cut the hair of the two girls during a check for headlice. The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union maintained the Lakota Sioux believe long hair is a sacred symbol, only to be cut by select individuals. The school employee’s actions, it was argued, violated the civil rights of the students.

Both sides agreed to settle the case, avoiding a federal trial. In the consent decree filed in Federal District Court, the school district agreed to “implement a general policy prohibiting school officials from performing haircuts upon Students for any reason without the written consent of the student's parents or guardians.” The policy will be included in the Staff Handbook.

The policy for performing lice checks will also be amended to prohibit hair cutting with permission of the family.

For five years the Cody-Kilgore schools are mandated to provide cultural training, including material specific to Native American people.

The district also agreed to pay the parents and students $227,500. The children’s portion of the funds will be kept in a special account until their 19th birthday.

U.S. District Judge John Gerrard approved the agreement between the school district and parents, bringing and end to the case.