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Lawsuit: JCPS coach forcibly cut student's hair

by Phillip Sitter | January 29, 2019 at 6:05 a.m. | Updated January 29, 2019 at 6:39 p.m.

A parent has filed a lawsuit on behalf of her son against Jefferson City Public Schools and her son's former middle school wrestling coach after the coach allegedly had her son held down and forcibly cut his hair in November 2017.

Roxanna L. Meudt-Antele said in a petition for damages filed the afternoon of Jan. 25 on behalf of her son that he, then in seventh grade, was on the wrestling team at Thomas Jefferson Middle School when his coach, Alexander Whelan, complained about her son's long hair.

Meudt-Antele and her son said Whelan, of Auxvasse, had complained about her son's hair since he joined the team - at or near the beginning of the fall 2017 semester, according to a discrimination complaint filed in May 2018 with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights.

On or about Nov. 13, 2017, Meudt-Antele's son went to Thomas Jefferson to get dressed for a wrestling meet at Blair Oaks Middle School and Whelan then "confronted and demanded (her son) to immediately cut his hair" while in the locker room.

The boy then asked if he could call his mother, and Whelan allegedly prevented him from doing that. "Whelan told (the boy) that it was his hair and not his mom's, and therefore, he could not call her." The wrestler then requested to forfeit his match instead of having to cut his hair, at which point Whelan walked away.

Whelan allegedly then grabbed some barber scissors, forced them into the boy's hands once he was dressed for the meet and demanded he immediately cut his own hair. The boy started to do it, but Whelan allegedly complained the wrestler was not cutting fast enough, so he told five other wrestling teammates of the boy to hold him down so Whelan could cut his hair himself.

The boy tried to get up and leave while being held down, but was not allowed to do so.

The petition for damages includes eight counts that she requests a jury trial on: assault and/or battery; false imprisonment; bullying and harassment; negligent supervision and/or hiring; negligent failure to supervise children; negligent infliction of emotional distress; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and a violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act.

Meudt-Antele and her son request judgment against JCPS and Whelan, "jointly and severally," in excess of $25,000 on each count in compensatory and punitive damages, reasonable attorneys' fees and any other relief the court finds proper.

In addition to the counts stemming from the alleged locker room incident itself, the petition's counts allege JCPS "knew or should have known Whelan had dangerous proclivities through the interview process, background check, employment history or any other method of determining whether a person is fit to instruct and coach minor children."

The eighth count of the suit references the discrimination charge filed with the Human Rights Commission, which alleges the defendants' actions created a hostile environment because of Meudt-Antele's son's race or ethnicity - Hispanic - and gender - male.

"(The boy) was the only member of the (wrestling) team that was asked to have his hair cut. Other members of the team, including girls and non-Hispanic students with long hair, were not asked to cut their hair," according to the discrimination charge.

"(The boy) was targeted by Whelan because his hair did not conform to the normative male stereotypes Whelan held regarding appearance and because (the boy) is Hispanic," the charge adds.

Meudt-Antele and her son's right to sue notice from the Human Rights Commission is dated Oct. 31, 2018.

Meudt-Antele and her son are represented by attorney Christopher R. Miller, of Columbia. No representation was listed in online court records for JCPS or Whelan, as of Monday afternoon. Summons for Whelan and JCPS were issued by the court Monday.

JCPS said in a statement Monday, "The way this student was treated is wholly incompatible with district expectations for staff conduct. We have not, and will not, tolerate this type of unacceptable behavior from anyone on our staff.

"The district has no policy that would require the cutting of a male or female wrestler's hair, and as soon as the district became aware of this incident we investigated and took appropriate action.

"Alexander Whelan is no longer employed with the district, and has not been employed with the district since December 2017."

JCPS records show Whelan had been offered employment for the 2017-18 school year to teach English at Jefferson City High School, but he resigned before the end of the first semester, with the end date of his employment listed as Dec. 22, 2017.

Meudt-Antele and her son's suit against the school district is the sixth active lawsuit against JCPS - the second of the six brought against the district on behalf of a student by their family on grounds of alleged negligence and discrimination, with the other four being related to various allegations of employment discrimination.

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