School suspends cancer survivor teen over hair he plans to donate

Eric Pfeiffer
Reporter
The Sideshow

UPDATE: Here's a link to the change.org petition started by J.T.'s mom.

A Michigan teen who survived a bout with leukemia has been suspended from school over the length of his long hair, which he is planning to donate.

The Detroit News reports that 17-year-old J.T. Gaskins has been growing out his hair since last summer in order to donate it to the Locks of Love charity. Gaskins said he was inspired to make the donation after learning that the sister of a family friend was diagnosed with cancer.

Gaskins was diagnosed with leukemia when he was just a year old and has been in remission since he was seven. "I fought cancer my entire life. I'm going to keep fighting this," Gaskins told the Detroit News. "I'm not going to not give back just because my school says no."

The Madison Academy in Burton says Gaskins' suspension has more to do with the unkempt style of his hair, rather than its length. The school's student handbook requires that boys' hair be, "clean, neat, free of unnatural or distracting colors, off the collar, off the ears and out of the eyes."

Gaskins says Locks of Love requires a 10 inch ponytail for a donation and that his hair is currently only 2 ½ inches long.

Locks of Love Communications Director Lauren Kukkamaa says that while they respect Gaskins' effort, they'd like to see him back in school.

"There are so many ways to support Locks of Love, and we are truly grateful for all of those efforts and this young man and his desire to give back," Kukkamaa said. "But certainly, we understand the school has its reasons for having certain policies in place."

Gaskins is also being encouraged by his mother Christa Plante, who says she supports her son's efforts "100 percent." Plante launched an online petition at Change.org for her son, which has received about 4,700 signatures so far.

"He's seen how it works and how it helped people, how it helped us," she said. "This is for him. He wants to do it now. This feels right," she said.

The petition asks the school to change their policy, allowing students to grow their hair for the Locks of Love charity. The new policy would require a student to sign a promissory note, research the respective cause they wish to support and to keep their hair "well-maintained" until the donation is made.

"I'm fighting for them to make it an option for kids to grow out their hair for Locks of Love, to make it a part of the school and raise awareness for all cancer charities out there that can help patients," Gaskins said. "It wouldn't be a change to where people find a loophole just to grow out their hair."

"I'm fine with all of their rules," Gaskins said. "I just think that with this, they could try to make a compromise."

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