Long Island mom claims teacher suggested her daughter’s hair wasn’t ‘American’, files discrimination complaint

A Long Island mother has filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights after a teacher allegedly discriminated against her daughter’s hair, suggesting it wasn’t “American” or “normal.”

“I would love to know — what is American hair?”

(Video: CBS New York)

“You know I’m American too?” Cindy Covington told CBS News New York her 17-year-old daughter said during an alleged exchange with her a teacher at Sachem High School East in Farmingville, Long Island.

According to the mother, her daughter’s white cosmetology teacher had remarked about the girl’s “ethnic” hair, prompting the student to ask, “so, if my hair is ethnic hair, then, you know, what type of hair do you have?

“And [the teacher] told my daughter she had American hair, she had normal hair,” Covington recounted before adding, “She said to her, well, you know I’m American too?”

“She felt like she was the outcast in the classroom. She felt uncomfortable. She wanted to leave the class. She started asking to wear wigs. She was constantly asking for her hair to be straightened,” the mother detailed to CBS News.

As a result, the Covingtons have filed a complaint seeking an apology, sensitivity training for the school and unspecified legal damages based on a violation of New York’s 2019 CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair). In short, the legislation, signed into law by disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), considers hair discrimination to be equivalent to racial discrimination. New York was the second state to enact such a law, following California.

“There are different textures of hair,” Covington pointed out. “I would love to know — what is American hair? What is that? I really would love to know. What is ‘normal’ hair?”

Her attorney Andrew Lieb echoed that point as he told the outlet, “The contrast to ‘American’ or ‘normal,’ saying they’re non-normal, non-American — what does that mean? And, number two, once the mom explains it to the school, for them to do nothing about it and it happen again implies that they were deliberately indifferent to her complaints.”

The mother went on to claim the teacher had justified her statements by arguing that “ethnic hair” is a term used in cosmetology. However, that only prompted Covington to contend that such a term would need to be changed because all people are members of a particular ethnic group.

Meanwhile, Sachem Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christopher Pellettieri released a statement that said, “At this time, the District has not been formally notified or served with any official paperwork regarding this complaint. We have publicly heard about this matter through various media inquiries and are reviewing the alleged complaint.”

It remains up to the Division of Human Rights to investigate the complaint that CBS reported could be mediated or proceed to trial.

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