Missouri high school updates hairstyle rules for athletes

By The Associated Press
08.25.03

BOONVILLE, Mo. — After a controversy over one athlete's cornrows, which prompted national attention and a lawsuit, the Boonville High School Board has changed rules governing hairstyles for the boys' basketball team.

"I'm glad to get this behind us and move on with other things," board President Steve Brengarth said.

The controversy began last fall when Kolby Hurt, then a freshman, was told he had to unbraid his cornrows or be barred from the basketball court because the boys' basketball program banned long hair, such as braids.

Kolby's father, Henry Hurt, also a Boonville city councilman, asked school administrators and board members to change the policy but was told that the dress code would not be reviewed until school ended last May.

In December, Hurt and his son filed a civil rights lawsuit against the school district in U.S. District Court. The court immediately imposed an injunction that allowed Kolby Hurt to play.

But the court revoked the injunction several weeks later. Last month, federal Judge Scott Wright of Kansas City dismissed the case, saying participation in extracurricular sports is voluntary and that coaches have the right to set rules on hair. However, he also wrote that the rule was "asinine and stupid."

The revised dress code, approved Aug. 20, makes no mention of braids and requires only that "hair is to be kept neat."

Although that rule is open to interpretation, school officials said players would be allowed to wear cornrows.

That is what Kolby will be wearing this school year, his father said.

The elder Hurt said that he was glad school officials had finally agreed to change the rule. But he said the lawsuit could have been avoided if school officials had been more responsive, saving both him and the school district thousands of dollars in legal fees.

School officials say they cannot change school policies during the middle of a school year.

And Superintendent Greg Gettings said it was unrealistic to modify rules because of unhappy parents.

"If we were to change because someone threatens a lawsuit, we would be changing our rules daily," Gettings said.

Kim Searfoss, a Boonville lawyer for the Hurts, applauded the school board's decision.

"It is a good step in the right direction," he said. "Mr. Hurt only asked for reasonable standards when applied to the dress code."