A charter school near Flint, Michigan is refusing to make an exception for a 17-year-old leukemia survivor who is growing out his hair to donate to other cancer patients.
Officials at Madison Academy in Burton suspended J.T. Gaskins over a week ago after they determined that his hairstyle violated the school’s policy.
At the age of 8 weeks old, Gaskins was diagnosed Infant Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. After years of chemotherapy, he was declared cancer free in 2003.
“I fought cancer my entire life; I’m going to keep fighting this,” he told The Detroit News. “I’m not going to not give back just because my school says no.”
Gaskins’ mother, Christa Plante, launched a petition on Change.org that had over 45,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.
“[J.T.] has decided to give back to commerate his Journey and success, and has decided now is the time, to give back, his decision is to grow his hair out and donate to other children and families battling the same fight he did,” she wrote.
“Female students can grow and donate their hair, yet boys cant not, we’re asking for an ammendment to this policy, my son has now been kicked out of school, until he agrees to cut his hair, we are simply asking for compromise and to allow not only my son, but anyone wanting to donate to be allowed to do so, to allow the boys the same rights and freedoms as the girl students.”
Will Kneer, vice president of Romine Group Inc., which manages the school, suggested to the Associated Press that Gaskins could return to school if he just used styling gel or put his hair in cornrows.
“I need his hair out of his eyes and off the collar,” Kneer explained. “I really want this boy to be back in school. I feel like combing his hair wouldn’t be a big concession. … He doesn’t have hair down the middle of his back. It’s an inch over his collar.”
But Gaskin pointed out that the idea of cornrows “doesn’t even sound like a compromise.”
While Locks of Love, the organization where he is hoping to donate his hair, doesn’t mention cornrows on its website, it does say that dreadlocks are not acceptable.
In an official statement on Tuesday, officials Madison Academy said there would be no exceptions for male students who wanted to donate their hair.
“Part of our dress code stipulates that male students must keep their hair clean and neat, which includes keeping it off the collar,” the advisory stated. “We want J.T. back in school, so we offered him and his mother several solutions, including the option that he can continue to grow his hair out if he simply styles it differently so that it’s out of his eyes and ears and off his collar.”
Locks of Love requires that hair be at least 10 inches in a ponytail before it is eligible to donate. Gaskin’s hair is currently at 2 1/2 inches.
Watch this video from ABC News, broadcast Jan. 30, 2011.