Photo courtesy Lillian Archuleta
Lestat Archuleta, 13, above, is Diné and Seneca. His school administrators in Colorado said he can wear his hair long because it is for religious purposes.

Mom to the Rescue! Native American Student Won’t Have to Cut His Hair After All

Simon Moya-Smith

Lillian Archuleta was heartbroken when school administrators said her son, Lestat, would have to cut his hair because it violated the school dress code.

But on Wednesday, school administrators at the Classical Academy North Campus in Colorado Springs rescinded its demand after Archuleta argued that it is her son’s religious right to wear his hair long.

Lestat, 13, has attended the academy since kindergarten, and for years would routinely cut his hair, mostly in the summer for soccer – but that all changed two years ago.

Archuleta said when Lestat was 11 he began studying and practicing his Diné spirituality, and it was then that he slowly started to let his hair grow long. Today, his hair is long enough to put into a ponytail, and according to the Classical Academy’s dress code, boys are not permitted to have long hair.

“We are obligated to enforce the dress code,” a statement sent by the school to Archuleta several weeks ago reads.

In that same statement, school administrators cited court cases dating back to the 1970s to support their claim that Lestat was in violation of the dress code and that he would have to cut his hair before the next school year.

Lestat Archuleta is letting his hair grow in accordance with his indigenous spirituality.

Archuleta said she felt bullied.

“They said it’s a distraction at school,” she said several weeks ago, claiming that the administrators would routinely phone her instead of responding to her emails – calls that left her in tears.

But during a meeting on Tuesday, administrators informed Archuleta and her mother, Crystal Whitehawk, who is Seneca, that the school would provide Lestat a waiver for his hair, but that he must wear it in a bun during the academic year.

The turning point, Archuleta said, was when she provided the administrators with several recent court cases that were sent to her by an outside party. These cases overrode the dated ones provided by the school.

In an email to Archuleta, Vice Principal Lance Carroll said she also must provide the school with a photo of a “traditional Navajo bun” so they can assess “what Lestat’s hair will look like.”

Archuleta said she can live with a bun because it is better than taking her son out of the school or cutting his hair.

“I want to support him,” she said. “[And] academically, it’s an amazing school. It’s a really fantastic school – other than this thing.”

When Archuleta got the news that Lestat did not have to cut his hair, she was “relieved,” but added the ordeal could have been avoided had the school done research regarding Native American's legal spiritual rights.

“I don’t appreciate that they put me through this,” she said. “I don’t like going through these things.”

On Saturday, Archuleta will drive Lestat from their home in Colorado Springs to the Navajo Nation where Lestat will continue studying and practicing his Diné spirituality through the summer.

Before Archuleta left the meeting on Tuesday, School Administrator Cheri Birkey said she was concerned Lestat may be bullied in the coming school year for his long hair.

“He’s a smart kid,” Archuleta responded. “I’m not worried about him being bullied.”

UPDATE: Tisha Harris, public information officer of the Classical Academy, told ICTMN she cannot comment on the situation beyond that they are "still working on getting this resolved."

"We’re changing a few things. It’s not like a done deal yet," she said. "I’m hoping this is resolved in the next week."

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