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    Family may sue over forced haircut at school

    A student says a teacher and an aide held him down and cropped his long hair.

    By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN and MELANIE AVE
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 22, 2002


    TAMPA -- Marcqueez Beal said he was sitting in a social studies class last December when he was summoned to an out of the way timeout room at Progress Village Middle School.

    "I thought I was in trouble," recalled the 14-year-old, who said he was confronted by a teacher and an aide.

    He said the two women forced him to the ground and told him his hair was too long. As one anchored his feet and straddled his body, the other cut off several inches of his hair with a pair of scissors.

    "Don't cut it, don't cut it," Marcqueez remembers screaming. "They had two handfuls of my hair. They put it in the garbage can."

    Now the teen's family has notified Hillsborough school officials that they intend to sue the district for allowing the two employees to cut Beal's hair without parental permission. They claim he was battered and emotionally traumatized.

    No criminal charges have been filed.

    "This is really outrageous conduct," said attorney Alan Sandler, who was hired by Marcqueez's family in January.

    Sandler said one of the teachers rested her weight on the teen, whom he described as a "thin little guy. He's not small, but he's not muscular."

    School spokesman Mark Hart said officials are investigating the actions of one employee at the middle school, which is a magnet school of the arts. He would not name the employee, pending the outcome of the investigation.

    The school system has six months to respond to the claim.

    When asked if Marcqueez was injured by the hair cutting, Sandler replied: "Emotionally. But physically, he was not."

    Sandler said Marcqueez's mother spoke to principal Angela Oliver the morning after the incident. She told the mother the school's security deputy would talk to her son, but that never occurred. Oliver declined to comment Thursday.

    Marcqueez's parents couldn't be reached despite efforts to contact them at their home, by phone and through their attorney.

    Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said the school's security deputy was only told by the principal "that two teachers apparently cut one of the kids' hair."

    The deputy "said unless it's criminal, it sounds like an internal problem," Carter said. "But they didn't tell her the kid was held down."

    Hart, the school spokesman, said the allegations would have been immediately referred to law enforcement if they had clearly involved criminal wrongdoing.

    Marcqueez said he liked the two teachers who gave him the cut, but not the new hair-do.

    "It was too short," he said. "I was mad."

    Marcqueez said he came to school that day with locks past his shoulder. By the time he came home, he said, his hair was almost above his ears.

    He said his teachers had been after him all year to get a haircut. Hillsborough has no policy on hair styles.

    Sandler said Marcqueez was transferred from the one teacher's class.

    And his hair?

    "He's letting it grow," Sandler said.

    -- Times researcher John Martin, photographer John Pendygraft and staff writer Amy Herdy contributed to this report.

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