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Lawsuit filed against school administrators accused of coloring black student’s hair

Chron logo Chron 8/19/2019 By Julian Gill, Staff writer
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A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed Sunday against Pearland ISD administrators who earlier this year were accused of filling in a design in a black middle school student’s hair with permanent marker.

In April, a 13-year-old Berry Miller Junior High student arrived at school with an “M” shaved into his short fade haircut, which administrators said violated the dress code policy. Three administrators gave the student, Juelz Trice, the option to either call his mother, receive a disciplinary action or color the design in with a marker, according to earlier reports in the Chronicle. Facebook photos later showed marker on the boy’s head, prompting public outrage and apologies from the district.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the boy’s parents, names four defendants: the district, school Principal Tony Barcelona, discipline clerk Helen Day and teacher Jeanette Peterson, according to Randall Kallinen, the parents’ attorney. The complaint said the administrators laughed as they took several minutes to color Trice’s scalp without calling the boy’s parents.

a sign on the side of a building: File photo from 2008 shows Berry Miller Junior High School. © Kim Christensen, Freelance / For The Chronicle

File photo from 2008 shows Berry Miller Junior High School.

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It took several days of scrubbing to get the permanent Sharpie marker to come off, the complaint states, adding that Trice felt “immensely humiliated and shamed.” The complaint also states that Barcelona was an assistant principal at the time, but has since been promoted to head principal “despite significant media coverage and public outcry” over the incident.

“After several attempts by the parents and their lawyer to resolve the issues with no response, the plaintiffs initiated this instant litigation for training and compensation,” the lawsuit states.

A news release about the lawsuit cited a 2015 study from the United States Department of Justice Office for Civil Rights, saying white and black students in Pearland ISD received the same percentage of in-school suspensions, even though white students accounted for 38.6 percent of the student population compared to 15.9 percent for black students.

"Despite this extremely shameful behavior and history of racial discrimination the Pearland ISD has doubled down and now installed Tony Barcelona as head principal of the Berry Miller Junior High School, kept Day and Peterson in their current positions, and refused to meet with Juelz's parents to discuss their behavior or any training of Pearland ISD employees," stated Kallinen.

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