Seventeen-year-old J.T. Gaskins woke up early this morning and got ready for school like all of his classmates, but instead of going to his Michigan high school, he settled in for what will be his second week of spending the school day working from home.
Gaskins was suspended from Madison Academy for having hair that did not comply with the school's rules for how long boys can grow their hair. But Gaskins is sporting the shaggy hairdo for a very specific reason. As a leukemia survivor, he is determined to donate his hair to Locks of Love.
"I really never thought we would be here," his mother Christa Plante told ABCNews.com. She was "dumbfounded" when her son's school board upheld a decision to keep him out of school and says she is "very much" concerned about him missing part of his senior year of high school.
The school board did not respond to request for comment.
Gaskins was diagnosed with Infant Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a high-risk form of leukemia in children, when he was 8 weeks old. He underwent nearly five years of chemotherapy and his family celebrated him being cancer-free in December 2003.
Locks of Love Become Lots of Trouble
Over the holidays, Gaskins was touched by a family friend who was battling cancer and decided he wanted to give back by donating his hair. But when his hair grew over his ears and started getting in his eyes, his school demanded he cut it.
Gaskins refused and was suspended.
"He's done his research. He knows what he wants and why. I'm very proud of him," Gaskins' mother Christa Plante told ABCNews.com. "He's fought for all these years and I think he deserves a little exception."
Plante said her son wants to donate hair now since he will be turning 18 and graduating soon and this will be his last year of pediatric cancer check-ups, which he has gone through every year of his life.
"He's celebrating his life and now he wants to give back so that other kids can have an opportunity to celebrate theirs too," she said.
After his first three days of suspension, Gaskins and Plante met with the school board to see if they would reconsider. Plante pleaded their case and presented the school with different suggestions for how to keep the situation in control such as saying that they would pull Gaskins' hair back in a ponytail or coming up with a donation clause so that other boys could not take advantage of a potential loophole in the rules.
"We had so many different ideas, but when we were done, it was a five minute decision," Plante said. "They said, 'We appreciate what you've been through, but we're sticking to policy.'"
The school's rules say that, "Hair must be clean, neat, free of unnatural or distracting colors, off the collar, off the ears and out of the eyes" for boys.
"The girl sitting next to him can grow her hair and donate and yet you're looking at your boy students and saying, 'We're going to kick you out for doing the exact same thing,'" Plante said.
Plante started a petition on Change.org for supporters to send letters to her son's school and the school board. The petition already has more than 3,000 signatures and dozens of comments supporting Gaskins' goal.
"We read about young people doing horrible things for no reason at all. Here is a young man wishing to help other people though an act of love and he's being punished for doing it? Time to have a school campaign for a period of time and use the teachable moment would have been a much better choice," one woman wrote.
"My best friend is right now coping with breast cancer and her hair falling out. No dress code is more important than support of cancer patients and survivors," another supporter wrote.
"The outpour of support has been very moving," Plante said. "We like the school. It's the policy that we're fighting against right now."
Gaskins' teachers have been sending his work home so that he doesn't fall behind and Plante makes sure that every day is as much like school as possible. He gets up early, does his work and is not allowed to watch TV or use his cell phone during school hours.
"This is not a free ride and this is not a vacation and he understands that," she said. "More adversity makes him stronger and more determined. The way that he's handling it…it's almost an education of its own, watching the way he's handling the negative and the positive that's coming from this."
Lauren Kukkamaa, the communications director for Locks of Love, told ABCNews.com that the organization appreciates all donations, but cannot interfere with rules set forth by schools or work places. She added that there were many ways to support Lock of Love, including volunteering for the organization or donating money.
Plante said that the school board's next scheduled meeting is on Feb. 27 but she is pleading with the board to meet at a sooner date.
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