Grooming policy trips up Texas teen who wants to donate long locks

By The Associated Press
08.31.04

HARLINGEN, Texas — A high school student trying to grow long hair so he can donate it to a group that makes wigs for sick children is protesting his school's demands that he trim his tresses.

Harlingen High School South officials have ordered Gerardo Garcia Jr. to cut his hair, citing a policy that forbids boys from having hair that covers their eyes or hangs below their shoulders.

But Garcia, who is trying to grow his hair to at least 10 inches, said the policy amounts to sexual discrimination because there are no restrictions on the length of girls' hair. Garcia's hair is 5 inches long now.

"These rules are supposed to protect us, and what kind of damage is my hair going to do?" Garcia said in the Aug. 29 edition of the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen.

Garcia is trying to reach the minimum hair length to donate to Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that uses donated ponytails to create custom-fitted hairpieces for children suffering from hair loss due to cancer or other medical treatment.

School administrators defended the dress code.

"Our district's success is that we are consistent with the policies we put in place and we have not made exceptions," Superintendent Linda Wade said.

The 16-year-old and his mother have appealed Wade's decision to the school board.

Garcia was forced to cut his hair last year after school officials placed him in an "on campus suspension" for the dress-code violation.

Tarissa Meadow, an executive assistant at Florida-based Locks of Love, said the group sent a letter to the school verifying that Garcia had filed a form to donate. She said the organization had never had to send a school district a letter like that before.

Garcia said he is motivated by his family's history of cancer — his great-grandmother died from lymphoma, his grandmother had breast cancer and his 11-year-old brother had a lymph node removed last year and may have to undergo a biopsy.

"I want to do this to make a difference in a child's life," Garcia said. "Giving children with cancer or burn victims one of the wigs helps them feel normal and not like an outcast, and that is important when you're a kid."