On the surface, the removal of an 8-year-old African-American girl from her classroom had to do with a hair product and her teacher's physical...
On the surface, the removal of an 8-year-old African-American girl from her classroom had to do with a hair product and her teacher’s physical reaction to it.
But for her parents, the incident that has kept the girl out of Seattle’s Thurgood Marshall Elementary School for two weeks is a lesson in what can happen when people won’t communicate.
Charles Mudede said he had a lot of questions when his daughter, the only black child in her advanced-placement class, came home from school last month and announced her teacher made her leave the classroom because the girl’s hair was making the teacher sick.
The girl was moved to the hallway, then another class.
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Why did the teacher think the problem was his daughter’s hair? Why hadn’t the school called the parents? How could the girl return to her own class if they didn’t first figure out what had made the teacher sick?
What investigation was being done to pinpoint the source of the problem? And, finally, why did the school seem oblivious to the racial overtones of a white teacher singling out her only black student?
Mudede said the situation escalated because no one at the school or the district would answer his questions about what happened in the classroom and why.
That left the parents with an 8-year-old’s version of events and concerns their daughter would process the situation in a way that left her feeling diminished.
“The issue I had, and still hold,” Mudede said, “is there should have been a little more cultural sensitivity in this issue.”
On Friday, the NAACP announced it would file a complaint about the situation with the U.S. Department of Education.
The family has engaged an attorney and is trying to arrange a meeting with the district, which now says it is limited in what it can say because of the threat of a lawsuit.
KING-TV reported that parents in this particular class were told at the beginning of the year the teacher had allergies.
“We’re certainly concerned about the incident and are looking into it,” district spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said Friday. “Because it’s been elevated to a legal issue, we can’t really talk about it.”
But, she added, “our goal is to make sure the student returns to school. The parents have, so far, not wanted to put her back in school. They want to be sure everything is resolved to their satisfaction.”
Mudede, who is black, said he has talked with his daughter about valuing the way she looks and about resisting pressures to straighten her hair with products in an effort to look more like her white classmates.
“I want her to know she’s beautiful,” he said.
The product she was wearing when she was removed from the class — Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Moisturizing Hair Lotion — was a compromise, he said, something light that kept her hair in its natural state.
“It was a very serious thing to our family,” he said, recalling incidents in his own youth that made him feel like an outsider because of his race.
“There is a great sense of embarrassment for us,” said Mudede, who seemed surprised the situation had reached the point where there was talk of a lawsuit, the very thing that would shut down discussion.
“How do you neutralize this exactly?” he asked. “It’s the last thing I wanted to happen. … But you get bloody angry. It’s infuriating.”
Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508 or firstname.lastname@example.org