Dreads in at Whitefish High 

Back in Dr. David Kauffman’s day, “If you got a lickin’ in school and you came home and told what it was for, you got another lickin’.”

Yeah, those were the days, back before all this nonsense about high school students having rights: the right to not get a lickin’, the right to sport tiny T-shirts and belly-button rings and the right to wear dreadlocks.

Doc Kauffman is one of three dissenting members of the Whitefish School Board who recently voted against updating the district’s hairstyle policy. As previously written, the policy had zero tolerance for students with dreadlocks. Now, the re-written policy allows “outlandish and/or unnatural colors” as long as the hair does not distract from the educational setting and meets “good hygiene standards.”

To Kauffman, that’s “too liberal,” because when it comes to high school, “Kids are there to learn, not be a fashion model or exercise rights.”

Kauffman says the school board betrayed the wishes of the Whitefish High School administration and teaching staff, which supported the policy that led to the removal of Kisteesha Lanegan from class last year when she refused to “fix” her dreadlock hairstyle (see “Locked out,” by Brian Alterowitz, Oct. 3, 2002). Lanegan filed a complaint with the Montana Human Rights Commission, which she and her attorney settled recently. This fall, Lanegan will return to school as a student at the alternative Whitefish Independent High School.

David Fern, one of the school board members who voted for the hair policy change, says the board—which parted over hair along a 4-3 vote—has decided to “respectfully disagree and move on.” Fern thinks the entire process “took six months too long.”

“We’re dealing with huge issues,” says Fern. “And what do we get bogged down in? Hair.”

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