A southwestern Ohio woman filed a lawsuit accusing a sixth-grade teacher and a teacher's aide of humiliating her son for his long hair by tying it into ponytails, making him stand in front of classrooms and encouraging students to mock him.
Amanda Anoai, of Milford, filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati on behalf of her 11-year-old son, referred to in the suit as J.A. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and charges that school officials violated the boy's constitutional rights and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.
The lawsuit alleges that on Sept. 29, J.A. was asked by his language arts teacher at Boyd E. Smith Elementary School in Milford to deliver a message to another room. The teacher told the class that she was going to play a prank, and when he returned, the teacher's aide approached J.A. with a pair of hair clippers and pretended to shave his hair, the lawsuit states.
The teacher pulled the boy's hair into three ponytails — one above each ear and one atop his head — with bands and introduced him to the class as a new student with a female name, the lawsuit alleges. The teacher's aide walked him to other sixth-grade classrooms to show his ponytails, and classmates laughed and called him names including "girl," "ponytails" and "pigtails," according to the lawsuit.
Being forced to show classmates the ponytails "caused J.A. extreme humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress," and school officials failed to protect him against "gender-based harassment," the lawsuit alleges.
Anoai said Wednesday that her son cried when he told her what had happened and said it "embarrassed him and made him feel stupid."
"I was shocked, and I cried too," Anoai said.
'It's been tough'
She said her son did not want to return to school, but she advised him to try after school officials told her he would not have to be in the room with both women together. When he later told her he was with both of them, she switched him to another school.
"He is making new friends, but it's been tough," she said.
The boy's hair is professionally trimmed and layered about every three months, and mostly doesn't touch his shoulders unless it's time for a cut, Anoai said.
"It's not like he is this kid running around with some crazy, dirty hoodlumish hair," she said.
Anoai said a few children teased her son about his hair when he was younger, but she said she told him to learn to handle the teasing or cut his hair.
"When it's a teacher, it's a totally different story," said Anoai, who added that school officials' only response was to tell her that the teacher and aide would be reprimanded.
The suit was filed against teacher Tori Bothe, the teacher's aide, school Principal Jill Chin, Milford Exempted Village School District and Superintendent Robert Farrell.
Farrell declined comment Wednesday.
Messages were left at the school for Bothe, Chin and the teacher's aide. A message also was left at Bothe's home. Chin's home number is unpublished. The aide's full name was not given in the lawsuit.
"The issue is not about kids teasing another kid," Anoai's attorney, Eric Deters said. "It's about teachers — adults — humiliating a student."