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Washington County school administrators have backed away from their demand that an American Indian student cut his hair.
Arrowhead Elementary School staff on Monday removed 7-year-old Jakobe Sanden from his classroom and told him his Mohawk hairstyle violated school policy, the boy's father, Gary Sanden, said.
"They wanted Kobe to come home until we cut his hair," Sanden said. "That's who he is. That's part of his culture."
Sanden was traveling on business at the time, he said, and negotiated with the school district over the phone to confirm his son's cultural roots.
He obtained a letter from tribal leaders of the Seneca Nation of Indians, based in New York, which explains that it is a Seneca custom and tradition for boys to wear a Mohawk.
"It is common for Seneca boys to wear a Mohawk because after years of discrimination and oppression, they are proud to share who they are," Seneca Nation Tribal Councilor William Canella wrote.
Sanden's son was eventually allowed to return to class, he said, but only after sitting by himself in the principal's office for a portion of the day.
"That's the sad part of the whole situation," Sanden said. "To ostracize him like that that's stuff from the '50s."
Arrowhead Elementary Principal Susan Harrah said it is common for family culture to conflict with school policy and was surprised the boy's removal from class had gained attention. "It took about a half hour of my time," she said.
She praised the cooperation of the Sanden family and said any issues with Jakobe Sanden's hairstyle have been resolved.
"If there's any kind of a hairstyle that is a distraction, then we have to tell the parents that we've got a problem," she said. "There's a protocol that we go through, and I felt like it was handled efficiently and that we respected their culture."
Sanden said it was unfortunate that the Santa Clara school in southwestern Utah approached him with an ultimatum rather than opening a dialogue with his family. "It could have been handled 10 different ways," Sanden said.
But, he added: "It's over with. He's back in class now."