Pink-Haired Cardiff Student and ACLU Obtain an Apology for Principal’s “Clearly Inappropriate” Stereotyping

SAN DIEGO – Five elementary school students who temporarily dyed their hair pink and were summoned to the principal’s office and chastised for being “unmanly” and “effeminate” succeeded in having their records of detention removed from their school records. The Cardiff School District apologized to the ACLU’s clients, Luca Schweitzer and his parents, saying that the principal’s statements were “clearly inappropriate.”

“We commend the school district for ultimately doing the right thing,” said Kevin Keenan, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “Schools face many challenges, but using gender-stereotyping name calling helps no one and is a legally prohibited form of gender discrimination.”

In January of this year, Luca Schewitzer , 12-years-old at the time, and four of his friends temporarily dyed their hair pink. By all accounts, their hair color caused no disruptions in class, and no students objected to their hair color. The boys were called into the office of the principal, Jill Heichel, at lunchtime, however, and were reprimanded for having pink hair because it was “unmanly,” “effeminate,” “not masculine,” or other words to that effect. When Luca asked the principal, “Isn’t that sexist?” the principal became noticeably angry and eventually imposed detention on all of the students.

Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination based on sex and/or gender by schools receiving federal or state funds. Such discrimination includes actions based on a perceived failure to conform to gender-based stereotypes. California law in particular compels public schools to take affirmative actions to “combat racism, sexism, and other forms of bias.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties and Len Simon took Luca’s case in March, 2009. In a demand letter dated March 3, 2009, ACLU’s legal director David Blair-Loy called on the Cardiff School District to expunge all records of the improper detention from the students’ records, to apologize in writing to Luca and the other students, and to direct the principal to undergo appropriate sensitivity training in an effort to resolve the matter without litigation.

In a letter dated September 4, 2009, Cardiff School District Superintendent Tom Pellegrino apologized for the incident, saying that the principal’s “statement was clearly inappropriate,” and that she had recognized her error in judgment. Pellegrino also acknowledged that the district will seek appropriate training for her, and will delete all records of the students’ detentions.

“We are pleased that this case could be resolved without a lawsuit,” said Len Simon. “Our goal was to expunge the record of the detention, and to be sure this would not happen again, in Cardiff and hopefully elsewhere.”

“When we were unable to resolve this issue with the district, we turned to the ACLU,” said Frances Shader, Luca’s mother. “We are grateful for the ACLU’s help in working with the district to address and prevent gender discrimination by the school principal.”

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Cardiff School District’s Letter of Apology

Cardiff Superintendent apology letter redac.pdf

ACLU Letter to School District

Cardiff School District ltr 3-3-09.pdf