HOUSTON – A Pearland Independent School District high school student says his right to religious freedom and expression was violated when he was forced to shave his mustache.
It happened at Dawson High School last week. Paul Miller III, 16, says for the last two months administrators have told him his mustache is against dress code.
"I told the school I can't shave, I'm Messianic Jew, it's part of my religion. But apparently they don't respect that and that's horrible," the sophomore said.
A spokesperson for Pearland ISD says school administrators told the teen to get a letter from his parents for a religious exemption from the dress code.
“No such note was ever submitted,” Kim Hocutt told KPRC 2.
Miller and his father dispute the district’s claim saying he turned the letter in to an assistant principal who they claim rejected it.
"They asked for a letter, I sent a letter and they refused it," said Paul Miller Jr.
Things came to a head last week when the teen says he tried to get an exemption from final exams but was told by an administrator he needed to comply with the dress code first.
"She told me if I shaved, I would get my exemption," he said.
The teen says he went to the nurse’s office.
“I kept telling her I was told to shave but I don’t want to do it, I was trying to work something out, apparently I couldn’t. It got to the point where she shaved me herself,” Paul said.
In a statement to KPRC 2, Pearland ISD said, “it is absolutely false that the school nurse shaved the student. The student shaved himself by his own choosing."
Pearland ISD is also embattled in a federal lawsuit related to a separate incident in April, in which an administrator was placed on leave for using a black marker to fill in the designs that were part of a middle school boy’s haircut, alleging it was against dress code.
“That is why we’re here today — because of the violation of the civil rights of this African- American student. And we’re seeing a real pattern here and it’s not just us, it’s the United States Department of Justice that sees a pattern of racial discrimination,” said the family’s attorney, civil rights lawyer Randall Kallinen.
The family says they are weighing their legal options. In the meantime, they say they would like an apology from the district and for all staff to receive additional training.