In March 2021, Jurnee Hoffmeyer, a biracial 7-year-old, had her hair cut by staff at her elementary school. She knew this didn’t seem right — and questioned why they were doing this to her.
“It made me feel different from the other kids, and I felt weird,” Jurnee told Yahoo News.
The haircut issue stemmed from another school-related incident just days prior: Jurnee said that while on the bus with her fellow classmates, another student cut her hair with scissors. Jurnee’s dad, Jimmy Hoffmeyer, complained to the principal and took Jurnee to a hair salon, where a stylist gave her an asymmetrical cut. But two days later, Jurnee came home with both sides cut.
Jurnee’s dad removed her from school. In September 2021, he filed a $1 million federal lawsuit against Mount Pleasant Public Schools, naming librarian Kelly Mogg and teaching assistant Kristen Jacobs, who are white, as defendants.
“Jurnee’s library teacher, Ms. Mogg had cut off her remaining hair with the assistance and/or acquiescence of Ms. Jacobs,” the suit said.
The suit alleged 10 counts, including racial discrimination in violation of the Michigan Civil Rights Act, ethnic intimidation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violating the 14th Amendment. The case was settled a few months later.
While a third-party investigation acknowledged that cutting Jurnee’s hair on school grounds either with or without parental permission is a “clear violation of school policy,” it concluded Mogg did not act with racial bias and was not fired. Yahoo News reached out to the Mount Pleasant Public Schools Board of Education for comment.
Michigan bans discrimination based on hair
On Thursday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Crown Act — or Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair — into law, making Michigan the 20th state to ban discrimination based on natural hair texture in the workplace and at school.
“For too long Black communities have been told to control their hair or to make it conform to white standards to meet unspoken rules that are rooted in prejudice,” Whitmer said during the signing ceremony.
“It shows our kids that they are beautiful and they are loved exactly just the way they are,” she added.
The Crown Act expands the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, created in 1976, by protecting hair texture and hairstyles, including locks, braids and twists that are “historically associated with race.”
Race-based hair discrimination is a ‘lived reality’ for people of color
According to a study conducted by Dove looking into how children experience hair bias, 66% of Black girls in majority-white schools say they’ve faced race-based hair discrimination. About 86% of those children have experienced it by the age of 12.
“Hair discrimination is a lived reality for many Michiganders of Color, particularly in the Black community,” state Sen. Sarah Anthony said in a statement after the House passed the Crown Act earlier this month.
“It can affect our employment, education, and wellbeing. At the start of this year, Democrats made it clear that this legislative session would be different — we would focus on the needs of the people, not special interests. We have accomplished great things, and the passage of this bill sends a clear message that Michigan is an inclusive state for all people,” Anthony continued.
The House passed the ban two days after the Senate passed it, marking a significant bipartisan victory, after sitting stagnant in the state’s Legislature for four years.
According to a 2019 research study on race-based hair discrimination, Black women’s hair is 2.5 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional.
‘We should be able to do what we want with our hair’
Christina Laster, the National Action Network’s education adviser who has been involved with Jurnee’s case, told Yahoo News in a statement that the Crown Act “is critical for empowering individuals to be valued for who they are, not judged based on outdated and discriminatory beauty standards.”
“We support the Hoffmeyer family in their advocacy, applaud Michigan for taking this important step, and call on other states to follow suit in protecting the rights of individuals to express their culture and identity without facing discrimination,” Laster said.
Jurnee, who uses TikTok to inspire other kids, stopped posting on the app after saying she lost confidence after her hair was cut. She emphasized the significance of the signing of the Crown Act, saying she didn’t want other kids to feel what she felt.
“We should be able to do what we want with our hair,” said Jurnee. “We can wear our hair any style that we want and nobody can say otherwise. Be who you want to be.”
Published: 2023-06-16 18:00:15