Cancer survivor suspended over his long hairstyle

A Flint-area teenager and leukemia survivor has been suspended from school for growing out his hair to donate to cancer victims.

Officials at Madison Academy, a charter school in Burton, say J.T. Gaskins' reason for growing out his hair is admirable. But his hair is in direct conflict with school policy that requires it to be “off the collar, off the ears and out of the eyes.”

The 17-year-old senior has already missed 5½ days of school.

“This is something I want to do, and I feel very strongly about it,” Gaskins told The Flint Journal (, referring to his plan to eventually cut his hair and give it to Locks of Love, which makes wigs for kids who have lost hair. He needs 10 inches.

Gaskins was diagnosed with leukemia as an infant but has been cancer-free since age 7. His mother, Christa Plante, said the school should allow long hair if boys pledge to get it cut and donate it.

“We're not asking them to dismiss the policy. We're not asking them to do away with the dress code. We were simply asking for a compromise,” Plante said. “We could turn this into such a positive learning experience.”

Madison Academy referred calls to Will Kneer, executive director of the Romine Group in Utica, which manages the school. He said the school board considered the issue Monday but decided to keep the policy for now.

Gaskins' hair isn't very long yet. Kneer said he proposed Gaskins use styling gel, put the hair in cornrows or simply comb it to comply with rules.

“I need his hair out of his eyes and off the collar,” Kneer told The Associated Press on Friday. “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.”

Kneer said the school has been sending work to Gaskins' home while he's away from classes.

As a cancer survivor, Gaskins said he shouldn't be told he can't grow his hair when he's trying to help others with the disease.

“Self-confidence,” he said, “is really what you need to beat the disease.”


Information from: The Flint Journal,

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