Teen kicked out of school for piercing she says is cultural

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BOUNTIFUL -- A Bountiful student has been kicked out of school until she removes a piece of jewelry from her nose. School officials say it's simply an even-handed application of the dress code, but the girl's mother says it's cultural close-mindedness and, perhaps, discrimination.

The dress code at Bountiful Junior High is clear: no nose piercings allowed. But what if your roots are in India where nose piercings are common? And does it matter if it's a religious practice or a cultural one?

Suzannah Pabla was born in the U.S. to an American mother and a father from India. To honor her father's culture, she pierced her nose and put in a small but eye-catching stud.

"I wanted to be, like, more of half my culture," she said.

Her mother, Shirley, said, "She's just embracing her heritage. I want her to."

But nearly a week ago, officials at Bountiful Junior High sent her home because nose piercing is not allowed.

Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams said, "This situation, the student would be in violation of the school dress code."

The school's dress code is tighter than the district's. It bans all body piercing except for the ear lobes. It was approved by a community council, including parents.

"Every school has their prerogative, as long as it's more, in addition to our district dress policy," Williams said.

"It's her dad's religious thing, it's you know, come on!" Shirley said.

Suzannah's parents divorced, and her father moved out of state. She sometimes worships as a Latter-day Saint, sometimes in her father's Sikh faith.

"I just want them to be fair and more open to different cultures in Bountiful," Shirley said.

The school district says nose piercing would be allowed if it was truly religious and not just a cultural practice. They consulted the Religious Roundtable of Salt Lake.

"What they told us is it's cultural, it isn't a religious tenet. And that part of the Hindu culture is that a nose ring like this signifies someone's been married," Williams said.

Suzannah's mother says she consulted Sikhs who say it is a religious practice. She worries it's a case of racial intolerance, an accusation the school principal strongly disputes.

"I'm frustrated. I don't want it to be a race thing, but it's just not, it's just not fair," Shirley said.

"If the family brings some more evidence that it may be religious, we'd be open to that," Williams said.

Late Monday, Suzannah made a hard choice, she bought a transparent, almost invisible stud for her nose, which officials have said they'll accept.

She told us she loves school and is falling behind, and she'll do what it takes to get back in.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com


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