Laughing at the humiliation and degradation of a young and impressionable Black boy is intolerable, but having that type of behavior displayed by the people directly responsible for the education and development of that young Black child is even more despicable.
That is what allegedly happened to 13-year-old Juelz Trice on May 17th.
The emotional, mental and physical scars that Trice has had to overcome since the alleged incident involving three White Pearland Independent School District (ISD) employees, has left him feeling embarrassed and distraught.
His family recently filed a federal Civil Rights lawsuit against Pearland ISD, along with a School Discipline Clerk, Head Principal Tony Barcelona, and teacher Jeanette Peterson.
According to the lawsuit, on April 16, 2019, Juelz, who is referred to as ‘J.T.’ in the lawsuit and was a 7th grader at Berry Miller Junior High School in Pearland, Texas, at the time of the incident, got a “fade” haircut with a design line. A fade haircut is common with many African American youth, and did not depict anything violent, gang-related, obscene or otherwise offensive or inappropriate in any manner, as it relates to somehow violating the school policy.
The lawsuit continues by stating that on Wednesday, April 17, 2019, Juelz arrived at school by bus in a timely manner at about 8:20 am and went to the cafeteria for breakfast. The Assistant Principal at the time, Tony Barcelona, who is a White male, approached him and told him to go to the office because he was “out of dress code.”
Juelz had never been informed that he had been “out of dress code” before, according to the lawsuit, so he went to the office and waited for approximately twenty minutes until Principal
Barcelona showed up. According to the lawsuit, Principal Barcelona instructed Juelz to go to the office of Discipline Clerk Helen Day, who is also a White female. For the record, a discipline clerk is, as the title suggests, a person knowledgeable about the Pearland ISD discipline policies and charged with their enforcement including hairstyles in the dress code.
The lawsuit continues to describe what happened next. According to the lawsuit, Juelz walked into Discipline Clerk Day’s office, where she showed him a copy of the Pearland dress code and said Juelz was in violation of the dress code regarding hairstyles. After a short while Principal Barcelona came to Discipline Clerk Day’s office.
In the presence of the Discipline Clerk Day, Principal Barcelona threatened that Juelz would receive as punishment, In-School Suspension for an indeterminate length. In-School Suspension requires a student stay in one room all school day and cannot go to his classes, thereby, straining academic success. Any school discipline can affect extracurricular activity participation and Juelz was an active track participant. Principal Barcelona gave Juelz another option, however, which was to have the fade haircut line design on his scalp immediately colored.
According to the lawsuit, in Juelz’s mind, this was intended to somehow cover up the line design. The lawsuit claims that neither Principal Barcelona, nor Discipline Clerk Day, informed him that he could appeal the proposed suspension, the potential scalp coloring or have a meeting or hearing about the matter. The lawsuit also states that Juelz was not informed that he could contact his parents for their advice. According to the parents, Ms. Washington and Mr. Trice, no one made any attempt to contact them despite their phone numbers being readily accessible. The lawsuit also states that no hearings or meetings were ever proposed or set up by any Pearland ISD employee. Although under great duress, as Juelz had never been in trouble before, and because he did not want to be suspended or get in trouble with his parents by having a first-time suspension appear on his school record or be removed from the track program, he made the decision to immediately choose the coloring of his scalp as the best option to take.
After this forced decision, it was then, according to the lawsuit, that Discipline Clerk Day handed Juelz a jet-black Sharpie permanent marker in full view of Principal Barcelona.
Juelz claims in the lawsuit that after a few minutes, with Principal Barcelona overseeing, Discipline Clerk Day took the jet-black Sharpie from him and starting coloring his scalp without his consent. The lawsuit goes on to say that as Discipline Clerk Day was blackening Juelz’s scalp, a schoolteacher, Jeanette Peterson, who is also White and just so happened to be passing by the office, was asked to continue blackening Juelz’s scalp with the Sharpie without his consent, to which she agreed and continued with the humiliation.
One of the most troubling parts of the lawsuit, is where it states at times during the coloring of Juelz’s scalp, Principal Barcelona, Discipline Clerk Day and schoolteacher Petersen were laughing at what these White adults in positions of legal authority in Pearland ISD were doing to him. To conclude the details in the lawsuit, it states that after they finished with their humiliating and demeaning blackening of Juelz’s scalp, Discipline Clerk Day sent him to Miller Moment, which is study hall, because their actions caused him to miss the entirety of his Spanish class. As he continued throughout his day, the lawsuit claims that students noticed the jet black coloring on Juelz’s scalp which generated tons of talk around the school. Some students even criticized him and made fun of him, according to the lawsuit and social media posts with memes followed which have caused Juelz tons of mental anguish.
After several attempts by the parents and their lawyer to resolve the issues with no response, the plaintiffs filed this federal lawsuit. According to the family’s lawyer, civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen, Pearland ISD changed their dress code hairstyle policy after the incident, and to make matters worse, Barcelona has been promoted from assistant principal to head principal where Juelz is now in the eighth grade.
“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,” said Kallinen.
In a statement, Pearland ISD stated that the practice that was administered by the three White Pearland ISD employees was not one condoned by the district and stated that it did not align with appropriate measures for dress code violations.
After the incident Pearland ISD Board of Trustee Mikael Floyd stated, “It’s no secret that racism, whether intentional or not, has crept into the code. The administration has made it clear that they are aware of the Board’s stance that provisions which are rooted in cultural or racial inequalities must be changed, and anything less will be unacceptable in my opinion.”
This is a troubling pattern that has continued in Pearland ISD. According to a 2015 study by the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Civil Rights, while there were more than twice as many White students (38.6%) than African American students (15.9%) enrolled in Pearland ISD, the two groups made up equal portions of students who received In-School Suspensions (30.4%).
In other words, African American students were suspended 143 percent more often than White students. Juelz seems to be one of those recurring Black victims, based off the details surrounding this incident. The question is, how many more Black students will become victims of these same Pearland ISD employees, who remain in positions to impact their lives and futures.
The Forward Times will continue to follow the lawsuit. In the meantime, the lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory damages. More to come!