“Why should I care if I have to cut my hair. I’ve got to move with the fashions, or be outcast.”  (“Cut My Hair”, Pete Townshend, The Who)

Pete Townshend’s lyrics from The Who classic “Quadrophenia” represent as well as any the plight of J.T. Gaskins, the 17 year-old student at a Flint, Michigan charter school.  J.T. admirably chose to grow his hair out in support of Locks of Love, a public non-profit whose mission is to provide economically disadvantaged children needing hair prosthetics as a result of cancer treatment.

This didn’t work for Madison Academy’s non-publicly elected school board, who enforced the ridiculous suspension while offering creative solutions such as “braiding, trimming, or getting a perm.” There’s no confirmation whether the late-era Mike Brady is their Board president.

If it weren’t so sad, it would be funny as the Michigan legislature raced forward with marginally regulated uncapping of charter schools. They waved the banner that “choice” to attend a school like Madison Academy, who now capriciously suspends a student who was acting in a way that should make society proud. Here’s J.T.’s choice now: Conform or be denied a free and public education. How is Michigan not outraged at this?

J.T. saw the greater purpose and acted on it. He applied what he’s been learning to do good things for the society of which he’s a part. Memo to selective charter schools – this is what it’s ALL about! J.T. is a success, not a failure.

J.T’s mother has had enough, telling the Detroit News, “We have decided to move J.T. to the public school, where they will focus on providing him with the best education possible no matter what his hair looks like.” 

Good for Mom and J.T., and the choice advocates will say, “Hey, this is how choice works.” But it’s not so simple.

This wanton dismissal of students, or selective admission (as I laid out in this blog entry about Benton Harbor Schools’ disproportionately higher enrollment of special needs students relative to areas charter schools) is just plain wrong.

These charter schools gladly take public tax dollars when it works out for them, and then discard those that don’t – “the outcasts” as Pete Townshend said.

Don’t cut your hair until your damn good and ready, J.T., and welcome back to true public education in Michigan.