Clute, Texas (October 14, 2010) – The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund collaborated with the Texas Civil Rights Project to help a Sikh American 4th grader and his family overturn a long-standing policy that discriminated against their religion and get their child back into his own local public school and has resulted in a revision of the current dress code for the Brazosport Independent School District.
Last school year a local couple, Jarnail Singh and Ravinder Kaur, went to Gladys Polk Elementary School in Clute, Texas to enroll their son Gundeep Singh. However, when a school official saw their son had uncut hair and wore a patka, a small head covering regularly worn by young Sikh boys as mandated by his faith, the school refused to let their son attend classes in the BISD.
Even when they took their case to Deputy Superintendent Dennis McNaughten, he told them they must find another school because wearing a patka and keeping his hair uncut (both required by the Sikh religion) were in violation of the district’s “no hats” policy and hair length requirements for boys.
“We just wanted our son to be able to go to school like everybody else,” said Ms. Kaur. “We thought this was America, where everybody was free to choose and follow their own religion without being discriminated against.”
The family contacted Kavneet Singh, no relation to Jarnail Singh, Managing Director of SALDEF. “The school was essentially saying that students were not able to practice their religion freely,” said Singh.
“Regrettably we still see such incidents across the country of Sikh Americans being refused access to public schools, denied employment and being subjected to hate crimes, primarily due to their distinct identity.”
Wayne Krause, an attorney at the TCRP, agreed to represent the family and immediately informed BISD that, “The district’s policies and actions against our client’s son violate the United States Constitution as well as the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act because there is no exemption for students engaged in free expression and free exercise of religion.”
Within days, BISD agreed to an exception and the family’s son was enrolled in his own school. Both sides worked together to create a permanent exemption in the dress code for religious practice that has been approved for the new school year.
Additionally, BISD invited SALDEF to offer a training to ensure administrators across the district would be better informed about the religious practices of Sikh American children and more fully understand the issues they face as students, like bullying and harassment.
Having just completed the exchange, Kavneet Singh said, “The district was open to learning about diverse religions, and as a result, it will be able to ensure its students have a safer and better education.”
The father, Jarnail Singh said, “We’re glad we stood up for our rights and that our son can go back to school. We are so thankful to TCRP and SALDEF for their assistance and support of our son and family. “
“We applaud the district for realizing the gap in their policy and making the necessary changed, said Krause, “Nobody should be forced to choose between their religion and an education. By working together, we can protect every American’s right to both.”
This article was contributed by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.