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Teacher Draws on Junior High Student with Sharpie as School Violates Handbook Policy

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by hearit

hearit's picture
In The News

It’s certainly ironic: Marshall Junior High School boasts its Mavericks mascot--pushing the concept of "someone who exhibits great independence in thought and action”--while a teacher instead draws on a student's head with a Sharpie, specifically to make him less individual. The Texas school can't easily argue policy violation. But one mad mom can argue it, after one public institution didn't follow its own Student Handbook. It could mean one legitimate lawsuit in a growing epidemic of schools that seem to be overstepping legal bounds.
Marshall Junior High student Sheldon Williams, in Texas, says the teacher involved told him students aren’t supposed to have two parts for haircuts. It seems it’s a part per kid allowance at the school. As the student puts it,”I don’t want no Sharpie in my hair.” One can hardly blame the poor kid. Plus it seems he’s been shorted. All that time spent on potential policy violations has apparently equaled a huge decrease in time devoted to teaching grammar.
Apparently a clean haircut is a big ‘no-no’ in certain Texas parts. One Marshall school administrator seems to think so, anyway, and rectified the ‘problem’ according to her own liking. Something seems very awry when a kid isn’t allowed to have artistry shaved into his head, but someone else deems it suitable to perform artistry on his head – with a marker. No, the teacher hasn't been fired or even forced on leave for investigation, after literally drawing on a student.
It remains kind of unclear as to how supposed student violations of school policy are typically handled at Marshall Junior High in Texas. Based on the principal’s statements, the indication isn’t really a good one. When there are violations, most schools choose to do normal things that aren’t going to land them in a pot of boiling hot legal problems. Policy violations usually mean the basics -- like parents being notified, kids sent home or maybe even suspension. But only the stupidest and most backward choose to actually touch a kid or potentially violate legal rights. Marshall Junior High School seems to have outdone itself.
It's apparently a Student Handbook policy in question -- designed to prevent against kids looking like thugs, or gang members. Marshall Junior High's Sheldon Williams, on the other hand, resembles more of an altar boy with two cleanly-cut parts. Or that's what he did look like, anyway, until a teacher decided to draw on his scalp -- filling in the clean part lines with a black Sharpie marker. Any school official who decides it’s wise to argue the student was in violation of school policy is going to be facing a hard battle. Marshall Junior High just better hope it’s not a hard legal battle -- because this is the stuff lawsuits are made of.
Physically touching a student – even if it’s not in a physically abusive way -- is usually considered off-limits, a swampland of potential trouble for schools. Yes, it usually spells l-a-w-s-u-i-t. Add into the equation the act of embarrassing a child in front of classmates and it’s a scenario ripe with legal possibilities. This Texas school district does happen to still allow corporal punishment in dealing with students. But the junior high’s Sharpie incident could present some very big legal issues for the school. While school policy apparently allows for a spanking or two in disciplinary measures, use of a marker -- or demeaning a student -- isn't outlined as acceptable. There's a Student Handbook no one seems to have referenced -- at least not the media.
While KSLA reports that Marshall Junior High school officials claim the head of Sheldon Williams was a violation of the school’s dress code, the statement’s looking less and less true – at least according to the Texas junior high’s Student Handbook. KSLA says school officials reference a prohibiting of “designs shaved into hair.” Statements from additional media sources say that prohibition falls under what is referred to as the ‘uniform policy.’ It’s interesting, since a closer examination of the Handbook seems to reveal that either the media is incorrect in its reporting -- or has been seriously misled.
In fact there is no section of the Marshall Junior High Student Handbook labeled ‘uniform policy.’ In fact, reference to uniforms instead falls under a section labeled “Dress and Grooming” ( page xxiiii) in the Handbook. And in fact, what the media references as “designs shaved into hair” actually contains one additional word when appearing in the official Student Handbook: “Hair designs shaved into hair.” The school is going to have a very hard legal battle in arguing that a clean, natural-looking line indicating a part is anything like the standard definition of ‘Hair Designs’ shaved into hair.
Let’s be clear: Junior high student Sheldon Williams wasn’t playing the role of a Ron Artest/World Metta Peace look-alike or that of NBA stars with unusually shaved hair. And that's where the Marshall Junior High Student Handbook becomes interesting.
The reference of “designs shaved into hair” is simply a bullet point in the school's Student Handbook, a reference among many, that falls under the main definition and guidelines for the “Dress and Grooming” (page xxiii) section. The important part, which defines the goals of the entire section, is here:
“Students and parents may determine a student’s personal dress and grooming standards, provided that they comply with the following: The District’s dress code is established to teach grooming and hygiene, prevent disruption, and minimize safety hazards. The District prohibits any clothing or grooming that in the principal’s judgment may reasonably be expected to cause disruptions of or interference with normal school operations.” And that makes things clear – very clear:
1) The school “prohibits any clothing or grooming…reasonably expected to cause disruptions of or interference with normal school operations.” The Marshall Indepent School District (MISD) website reiterates the grooming policy and hair, adding further that students' hair should "be kept neat and well-groomed." Sheldon Williams seems to have fit that bill, perfectly. The district or junior high school’s going to find it a virtual impossibility to even attempt to argue that a natural-looking part, or two, on a student’s head was guilty of causing disruption or interfering in any way with normal school operations. On the other hand, the teacher's actions -- of removing a student from class and additionally defiling a child by drawing on his head with a marker -- does, arguably, cause both disruption in the educational process and an interference with normal school operations.
2) The school prohibits “grooming that in the principal’s judgment may reasonably be expected to cause disruptions of or interference with normal school operations.” One word is key: Principal. According to the junior high school’s own handbook, the institution’s principal is to judge or be the determining factor. Despite this clearly-listed policy, it was a teacher at Marshall Junior High -- not the principal -- who decided to make an independent judgment call that does not match the school’s Handbook, and was arguably not a granted power or defined within her role as an employee.
There’s other fun stuff in the Marshall Junior High Student Handbook. Apparently boys are also not allowed to wear straw in their ears. ‘Over-alls,’ known to the rest of the world as ‘overalls,’ are prohibited and ‘outer war’ – which most wear in cold weather – is limited to mainly solids. All of those good things fall in one section, and on simply one page, alone. The Student Handbook that’s packed with grammatical errors is enough to make any good English teacher shudder. Hopefully students aren't reading the Handbook in order to learn from its pages.
If there’s any question about hair and Marshall Junior High policies, the subject is apparently so important that the school district ensures the question is answered twice. On page xxiv, the grooming category is again addressed for clarity: “Hair must be a natural color and groomed in such a fashion that the appearance does not cause disruption to the learning environment.” On that same page is the section which tends to sink the school’s battleship. It’s called ‘Violations’ and includes some interesting stuff – like how they’re supposed to be handled.
Handbooks often read like business contracts, often packed with vague inclusions -- depending how good the lawyer. But when something is included and clearly outlined, there’s no way around it. Here’s what the district and Marshall Junior High has to say about the school’s protocol surrounding alleged violations of its ‘Dress and Grooming’ policy:
“Violations. Students in violation of the dress code (either MISD as outline in the Student Code of Conduct or the Campus Uniform Dress Policy) are guilty of Phase I Misbehavior. A student in violation will be removed from classes until compliance takes place. A parent bringing approved clothing to school may achieve compliance. Repeated violations will result in Phase II Misbehavior consequences. If the principal determines that student’s grooming violates the dress code, the student shall be given the opportunity to correct the problem at school and will be placed on the dress code violation list. If not corrected, the student shall be assigned to in-school suspension, or comparable assignment for the remainder of the day or until the problem is corrected, or an acceptable change of clothing is brought to school. Once a student is put on the dress code violation list, further violations will result in more serious disciplinary action, including possible suspension. Appropriate discipline procedures shall be followed in all cases.”
So, “if the principal determines that student’s grooming violates the dress code,” then action according to the Handbook will occur. There’s that pesky ‘principal’ reference again. It seems she was actually supposed to be involved in any violation of conduct – not a classroom teacher who chose to rectify a (supposed) issue to her own liking. And then there’s that other interesting part – the fact that the Handbook also clearly indicates the student will be removed from class until compliance with the violation is met. The Marshall Junior High School Student Handbook does not state a child will be yanked from class to be forced into compliance by an employee not employed with the right to do so. And, finally, “appropriate discipline procedures” – while not clearly outlined – do not include writing on a child or embarrassing that student in the eyes of classmates. It looks like there is a violation or two – on behalf of the school.
And that brings up something very important in terms of legal stuff: The school won’t easily be arguing a policy violation, because it didn’t exist. It couldn’t have – because, if there was a policy violation of the Student Handbook, the school would have been legally required to follow its outline of procedures for a violation. Oddly, none of those things seem to have occurred. And that’s where the subject of a principal is once again important.
Interestingly, the Texas junior high’s principal has had a role – just not the one outlined in the Student Handbook for Marshall Junior High. In fact Principal Stephanie Richards is newer. Her role in the Sharpie incident seems to be more limited to speaking with the media. Just hired in August 2011 when she joined the school, Principal Richards says she’s aware of the marker issue. That part’s not surprising, since most of the nation has heard about the unbelievable scenario involving a black marker. What is surprising is that something similar happened before.
Principal Richards has alluded to at least one previous incident having been handled in the same manner at the school. She wasn't there at the time. No one’s naming names, but it’s probably safe to assume there's another key similarity. But not to worry: The head of Marshall Junior High says things are changing. Apparently she plans to call and notify parents, with any similar circumstances in the future. That might be a good idea – along with an administration change.
Do school districts, schools, administrators and teachers overstep bounds in enforcing or attempting to enforce supposed grooming, dress or uniform policies? It seems to be a growing and nationwide problem – often backed by vague claims or references to Student Handbooks. Questionable school policies and claims of student violations, cover-ups of wrongdoing or negligence, teachers battling over power, and battles in power and ego between school administration and parents continue to plague schools across the nation.
Just months ago, California state saw one of the more disgusting, racially-motivated hate crimes in recent times. An African-American high school student was warned against revealing racial discrimination issues, allegedly by the principal of Santa Monica High School who didn't want the black student telling police about harrassment. SMHS wrestling teammates had locked the young black boy to a "dummy bag" wearing a noose. Virtually no action was taken by the California-based school district: No teachers, administrators or related employees were fired over the incident and what is claimed to be an incredible cover-up. Unbelievably, the CA school district's SMMUSD Superintendent Cuneo made the following announcement to the press about the hate crime: "I'm not trying to diminish this...but it's one incident, not a trend.”
In Nebraska an 11-year-old girl was kicked off the junior high school's cheerleading team after refusing to "shake her booty."
A Connecticut art teacher was busted after forcing students to clean toilets for up to two years. She was investigated after a parent complained a student's hands were burned, or the child endured a bad allergic reaction to a bathroom cleaner.
In Washington there's the 9th-grade junior high school boy who was suspended for wearing a dress and heels to school -- the school initially suspending the boy for the entire remainder of the school year, and barring him from end-of-year events. His 'punishment' was reduced to three days after media exposure and pressure on the public school -- though the school still banned him from the year's final dance.
California saw three former grade school PTA members accused of stealing $1 million in a Ponzi scheme fraud while, separately in the state, a 5th-grade school teacher distributed X-Rated DVDs to students and parents. 
And then there's the Florida grade school boy forced to leave his backpack in the office daily -- only to unload his books for class, and pick up the bag at the end of each day. The school claims there's cleavage on the school bag, in a battle that's been publicly fought between parents and the principal.
Post and share your story on Wacktrap, to meet and connect with parents who've had similar experiences -- learn how other parents have solved their issues and problems with school districts, codes and policies.


Marshall Junior High (TX)
700 W. Houston Street
Marshall, TX 75670
United States
Phone: (903) 927-8830
Fax: (903) 927-8837
32° 32' 41.2764" N, 94° 22' 27.8832" W
Marshall Independent School District - MISD (TX)
1305 E Pinecrest Drive
Marshall, TX 75670
United States
Phone: (903) 927-8700
Fax: (903) 935-0203
32° 31' 37.128" N, 94° 21' 13.7556" W
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