The mom of an 8-year-old girl who was sent home from school for a “distracting” haircut says her daughter is the victim of a witch hunt.
Layla Sysaknoi, a third-grade student at Columbia Elementary School in Fresno, Calif., has been shaving her head since she was in preschool. “She saw a YouTube tribute video dedicated to the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting, and the singer had shaved her hair into the shape of a heart,” Layla’s mom, Tara Sysaknoi, 30, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Layla loved the hairstyle and asked if she could have it.”
Over the years, Layla has experimented with various looks, having stars, stripes, and zigzags shaved into her hair and wearing both long and short styles, all with her mother’s blessing and no complaints from the school. That all changed March 5.
“I got a call from the school because Layla’s teacher said her haircut was distracting,” says Sysaknoi. “She’s attended the same school since she was a toddler — why is it a problem now?”
Sysaknoi was given two choices: Until Layla’s hair grew back, she could either be banned from school or face in-house suspension. Adding to the mixed messages: “The principal also said Layla’s hair was fine, but she had to check with the district about updating the dress code,” says Tara.
The school dress code prohibits “hairstyles which draw undue attention, detract from the educational environment and not acceptable; i.e. unusual designs, colors, mohawks, tails, or unusual razor cuts.”
Layla stayed home from school for seven days and was marked “truant,” defined by the Fresno Unified School District as three or more unexcused absences per school year. On Wednesday, fearing a possible fine or jail time for Layla’s absences, Sysaknoi sent her to school and hasn’t heard a word from the principal.
“The district in no way disciplined the student at Columbia Elementary School,” a district spokesperson told Yahoo Lifestyle. “The parent chose to take her child out of school despite the district’s stance that her child wasn’t being disciplined and was allowed to stay in class.”
However, Sysaknoi is convinced that her daughter’s hair would not have been problematic if not for an unrelated incident in February.
“Last month, Layla called me from school, on the cellphone she keeps shut off in her bag, and said she was terrified of a male teacher because he always yells at her and tells her to shut up,” she says. “She also said he yanked her arm.”
That day, Sysaknoi picked up her daughter, and during a subsequent meeting with the principal, she asked that Layla be removed from the teacher’s class and the incident investigated. “The school said the teacher could not have touched her, but they agreed to switch her to a new class the following day,” she says.
A few days later, Layla’s hair was a problem.
“Punishing Layla for her hairstyle is gender bias and does not allow her to express herself,” says Tara. “But I also believe the school views me as a ‘problem parent’ for sticking up for my daughter.”
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