School dress codes are not a new idea. Many of those guidelines include rules for hair, makeup and jewelry, as well as the clothing ensembles students don to head to class every day. In one Michigan high school, the rules regarding boys’ hair is very clear: “Hair must be clean, neat, free of unnatural or distracting colors, off the collar, off the ears and out of the eyes.” The rules also state that students who fail to follow the dress code may be subject to an out-of-school suspension. So why is one suspended student who refused to adhere to the dress code in this high school now receiving national support for his actions?
A Good Cause
The reason for his long hair is why people nationwide have come out in support of this seemingly rebellious teenager. J.T. Gaskin is a 17-year-old cancer survivor, who, until just recently, attended Madison Academy near Flint, Michigan. Gaskin is about to celebrate his final pediatric check-up for cancer, and he decided to commemorate the event by doing a good deed for a charity that helped him when he was a cancer patient. Gaskin decided to grow out his hair until it was long enough to cut and donate to Locks of Love – a charity that uses real human hair to create wigs for low-income cancer patients.
“I just want to give back to the charities that have given to me,” Gaskin was reported to say in the New York Daily News.
Locks of Love requires hair to be at least 10 inches before it is cut for donation. Gaskin began growing his hair in December, inspired by the sister of a family friend who was also battling cancer. By January, Gaskin’s hair had grown past his collar. That was bad news for Gaskin’s school because now the high school senior was in blatant violation of the school’s dress code. On January 23, Madison Academy suspended Gaskin, after the teen refused to cut his hair and comply with the rules.
Pleading the Case
Three days into his suspension, Gaskin and his mother, Christa Plante, met with school board members to see what could be done to overturn the decision. According to a report at ABC News, Plante pleaded her son’s case and provided options that would allow Gaskin to continue working toward his cause and attending classes at the school. Some of their ideas included having Gaskin pull his hair away from his face or come up with a donation clause in the school dress code policy that would discourage other boys in the school from taking advantage of Gaskin’s allowance.
“I said, we can do it under guidelines – we can slick it back; we can put it in a ponytail when it’s long enough,” Plante told USA Today. “They just flat-out said, ‘no’.”
Despite the decision by the school board, Gaskin isn’t waffling on his decision. He is ready and willing to take whatever comes after refusing to comply with the school dress code. He also has the support of his mom – no matter what happens next.
“He’s done his research,” Plante told ABC. “He knows what he wants and why. I’m very proud of him. He’s fought for all these years and I think he deserves a little exception.”
No Waivers from the Board
The school board did not take Plante and Gaskin up on their offers, or see a reason to make an exception to the rules in this case. In a statement released by the school and reported by USA Today, Madison Academy stated, “Every student signed a pledge to follow this policy.” The statement also explained that the policy is determined by faculty, administration and parents every summer.
The board also told USA Today that they offered Gaskin a compromise at the meeting – to style the hair away from his face – but the family did not agree. Members of the board also offered the option to transfer to another school or have Gaskin cut his hair and contribute to the charity in another way. Lauren Kukkamaa, the communication director for Locks of Love, told ABC there are numerous ways to support the organization, including volunteering or donating money.
ABC reports that Plante was “dumbfounded” with the school’s decision. She told the station, “I never thought that we would be here,” and she is very concerned that Gaskin may miss part of his senior year of high school.
Still, Plante says Gaskin feels strongly about donating his hair to the cause. Gaskin told the Huffington Post, “Self confidence is what you need to beat the disease.”
“He’s seen how it works and how it helped people, how it helped us,” Plante added. “This is for him. He wants to do it now. This feels right.”
The Suspension Goes Forward
At this point, Gaskin is doing his school work at home every day. His teachers send work home daily so Gaskin doesn’t fall behind, and Plante does her best to keep her son focused on his class studies. Gaskin is expected to get up early to begin his work, and no television or cell phone is allowed during school hours.
“This is not a free ride and this is not a vacation, and he understands that,” Plante told ABC. “More adversity makes him stronger and more determined. The way that he’s handling it…it’s almost an education of its own, watching the way he’s handling the negative and positive that’s coming from this.”
A petition is now being circulated on Change.org to amend the current school dress code. At this time, more than 53,000 signatures have been added to the petition, according to the New York Daily News.