Native Village Youth and Education News
February 1, 2009 Issue 194 Volume 2

Judge Rules Needville ISD Violated Native American Boy’s Constitutional Rights

by Bob Dunn |
Condensed by Gina Boltz, Director, Native Village Publications

Texas: A Texas judge strongly rebuked the Needville Independent School District for violating the rights of a kindergarten student and his parents.  U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison ruled that Needville ISD may not force 5-year-old Adriel Arocha to comply with dress-code rules created specifically for him.

On the first day of school, Adriel wore his hair in two long braids outside his shirt in respect to his Native American heritage.  Needville Elementary School sent Adriel's parents a letter saying Adriel would not be required to cut his hair, because of his religious beliefs. However, Needville created a special dress code requiring him to  “wear his hair in a tightly woven single braid down his back with the hair behind his ears, out of his eyes and the braid tucked into the collar of his shirt.” Adriel did not comply. On Sept. 3, the principal placed the boy in in-school suspension.

“Needville is known for the structure and discipline that we have, and we take pride in that, too," said Needville ISD Superintendent Curtis Rhodes at the time. "We’re going to uphold our standards … We’re not really open to letting 5-year-olds make their own rules.”

On October 3, the judge temporarily lifted the suspension.

In her final ruling last month, Judge Ellison said Needville's policy “violates not only Adriel Arocha’s free exercise rights, but also his rights to free expression and his parents’ due process rights.” 

The ruling came through a federal suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the boy and his parents.

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