March 31, 2014 -- Michigan high schooler Mike Barker’s socially conscious hairdo earned him a ban from competing at his school’s track meets.
Barker shaped and dyed his hair into a hot pink Mohawk to help raise awareness for breast cancer and to support his mom, who is fighting the disease. He practiced for weeks with spiky hair but once he showed up to practice with his hair dyed bright pink, the high school junior was promptly barred from West Iron County High School track meets by his coach and then the school’s principal for violating the school’s grooming and appearance policy.
Other students from the school and from neighboring towns have now rallied in support, wearing pink clothing and dying their hair the same color.
In an email to ABC News, Christopher Thomson, superintendent of the West Iron County Public Schools, wrote: "[We] support the needs of the students to express themselves, as long as their expression does not interfere with the educational process. We also strive to balance individualism of athletes with the concept of team that fit within our athletic code. The athletic department is going to work with the student and parents to resolve this issue."
"The student was not dismissed from the team and we welcome his participation in the future," Thomson added. "The athletic department has long supported breast cancer awareness by participating in numerous events involving student athletes and staff held in October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) and plan to continue to support this worthy cause."
Barker and his family could not be reached for comment.
Barker isn’t the first teen to style his hair to raise awareness for cancer. And he isn’t the first to get a negative reaction from his school for doing so.
Last week, 9-year-old Kamryn Renfro was suspended from her Colorado school for shaving her head in a show of solidarity with a friend undergoing chemotherapy. Though her parents approved her shorn locks, Caprock Academy would not allow her to attend classes and sent her home. The school later overturned the decision saying that her close-cropped hairstyle violated policy but exceptions could be made for extraordinary circumstances.
Last October, 11-year-old Trevor Foster of Columbus, Ind., was barred from competing in school sports for shaving his head into a pink Mohawk in honor of breast cancer awareness month. That decision too, was later rescinded.
Nonprofit charity St. Baldrick’s Foundation has held more than 8,000 head shaving events since 2000 to raise money and awareness for childhood cancer. Marc McCarthy, St. Baldrick’s senior director of marketing and communications, said many schools have strict regulations about how hair can be worn but some are slowly beginning to make exceptions for demonstrations of support like Barker’s.
“This is a teachable moment for schools. Some are embracing this idea, while some are still struggling. We want kids to do the right thing and clearly this young man was trying to do the right thing by standing up in solidarity for his mother," McCarthy said.
However, McCarthy suggested that misunderstandings can be avoided if students inform their school of their intentions. The school and family can then work together to craft the proper tribute to a charity, cause or loved one, he said.
Thomson said the school met with Barker and his family and would provide an update of the situation.
“As of this AM representatives of the West Iron County Public Schools and the family of the West Iron athlete involved in the issue had a positive meeting this morning,” Thomson said.
Thomson wouldn’t discuss whether the situation had been resolved but did say that a joint press release from the school district and family would be issued on Tuesday.