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School suspends cancer-survivor boy for growing hair for Locks of Love

Lathan Goumas / Flint Journal via AP

J.T. Gaskins was suspended from school for violating the school's dress code policy because his hair is too long.

A few inches of hair stand between J.T. Gaskins and an education.

The 17-year-old, who had been treated for cancer and said he now wants to grow his hair to give to Locks of Love -- a charity that provides wigs for kids who lose their hair due to chemotherapy and other treatments -- was recently suspended from Madison Academy, a  charter school in Burton, Mich., for refusing to trim his tresses.

Gaskins told The Flint Journal that he was diagnosed with leukemia as an infant and has been cancer-free since age 7. “This is something I want to do, and I feel very strongly about it.”

The school’s dress code policy, spelled out in the student-parent handbook, says hair must bair must  be kept “clean, neat, free of unnatural or distracting colors, off the collar, off the ears and out of the eyes” for boys.

Gaskins’ hair, which resembles the windswept bangs of Justin Bieber, dangles at his eyes and covers his ears.

His mother, Christa Plante, told the Journal she supports her son and remembers his cancer fight as a small child. “The fact that he’s ready to talk about everything he went through, his strength ... I can’t deny him that. He’s ready to speak out about what he’s been through,” Plante said, according to the newspaper.

Plante started an online petition asking the school board to amend the hair policy for boys. As of Friday, more than 160 people had signed on.  

"Female students can grow and donate their hair, yet boys cannot," the petition says. "... 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."

Board meeting
Superintendent Will Kneer says school officials have been trying to work out a solution. He says the five-member school board may soon take up a possible revision to the dress-code policy to take into account special situations like Locks of Love.

“The board is charged with the responsibility of assembling a group of policies and procedures that most uphold the vision and mission of the school and serve the school best as a whole and the community as a whole,” Kneer told msnbc.com on Friday.

Friday was the fourth straight day of classes Gaskins has missed. Kneer says school officials are trying to find ways to provide for his continuing education while he remains out of class.

“My immediate concern is, what are we going to do for this kid to make sure he doesn’t lapse,” Kneer said.

"Personally, my heartfelt desire at this moment is to have that child back in school."

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