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Begay Pushes for Hair Bun Law

Begay Pushes for Hair Bun Law
March 04
09:04 2016

A Navajo lawmaker wants to make sure that student athletes are not forced to remove a religious or cultural hair piece to participate in school sports.

The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Carlyle Begay, would bar a school district governing board, charter school or interscholastic athletic association from preventing a student from wearing religious or cultural accessories or hair pieces while participating in extracurricular or athletic activities, as long as it doesn’t pose a safety issue.

“It just clarifies some ambiguity in the language and gives the AIA some direction,” Begay said. “It’s a way to make sure we are very aware of the diversity of communities we have throughout the state, especially Native American communities and the rich heritage they have.”

Begay’s bill was prompted by an event in February involving the Flagstaff girl’s basketball team.

An Arizona Interscholastic Association referee ordered several Flagstaff girls to remove the traditional Navajo buns in their hair. The referee was criticized by the Navajo community and school officials.

The AIA, which oversees high-school sports, later apologized and said the buns will be allowed in the future.

Begay, from Ganado, introduced Senate Bill 1219 to make sure the hair buns are untouched.

Begay said the buns were worn as part of a Native American cultural night. They are typically worn low on the neck and tied up with colorful string or yarn. Sometimes lengths of yarn dangle from the bun, which is called a tsiiyéél.

AIA rules prohibit hair accessories that could be a safety issue, but leaves that open to some interpretation.

“I just wish people would use common sense,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, who supported the bill.

She said the wording would still prevent a student from wearing a headpiece that could be dangerous.

“It can’t be this big old thing,” she said. “If they’re playing football, it can’t be something that is a danger to anybody.”

Sen. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Tucson, supported the bill, but said she was concerned it was overly broad and could allow students to wear something that could be offensive.

“High-school kids come up with some of the weirdest stuff,” she said.

AIA lobbyist Barry Aarons registered as neutral on the bill. The Arizona Education Association is supporting it.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill and it now goes to the House for consideration.

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