CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Kristin Vanna said her family moved from Washington State last year and enrolled her 16-year-old son Phoenix at Calallen High School.
Her son belongs to the Suquamish tribe, even though she said to some, he may not appear Native American.
"We came down last year, met with the school enrolled him," she said. "And this year he decided to grow out his braid to honor his culture."
That’s when Vanna said her son started getting warnings at school that he was out of compliance with Calallen ISD's dress code, and had to cut his hair if he wanted to avoid in-school suspension (ISS).
Vanna said she emailed the assistant principal, offering to provide a copy of Phoenix’s certificate of enrollment in the tribe.
"But the tribal certificate wasn’t exactly enough", she said.
Vanna said she went back to the tribe, asking for advice and more proof of Phoenix’s affiliation.
The tribe then reportedly sent a letter to the school detailing how demanding Phoenix cut his hair violates the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
She said the council found the school's request unnecessary, and highly offensive.
"It took some time and he spent the last two days in ISS," she said. "He was there Monday and Tuesday. I believe the quote in the email is: 'He will sit there until the hair is cut.' "
3NEWS reached out to Calallen ISD for comment, and they sent the following statement which outlines their dress code policy on grooming, hygiene and safety hazards:
"The Calallen ISD dress code is established to teach grooming and hygiene, prevent disruption, and minimize safety hazards. Students and parents may determine a student's personal dress and grooming standards, provided that they comply with district dress code. We appreciate and honor the racial and cultural background of all students.
"For students who have a religious or cultural affiliation that does not align with dress code, we only ask that the family provide affiliation documentation.
"We strive to honor their backgrounds, and the diversity of cultures in our community. . . .
"In the case in question, once the family provided the information requested, an exception was immediately granted."
Phoenix is no longer in ISS. She said he will continue growing out his hair long enough for a braid, which is significant to him and his tribe.
“I just wish there was a way to fix these policies to make it easier for kids to get an education, he was going to get kicked out over this. It seems so strange over a haircut. I know they don’t want distractions but in the year 2022 what we look like isn’t as important as getting and education or a job", said Vanna.