Should students be able to dye hair pink?

Elementary school says unnatural colors distract but 14-year-old believes it's freedom of expression
By: Michelle Miller-Carl Journal News Editor
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Fourteen-year-old Ashley Morris has wanted to be a hair stylist since fifth grade. Her interests in beauty have led to her dying her hair blue, green, purple, black and brown. But her recent decision to go with a shocking shade of pink has grabbed the attention of officials at her Newcastle Elementary School and highlights the struggle between self expression and limiting disruptions in the classroom. The colorful conflict also shows how a child can suffer when a parent owes the school money. “Her dream is to go to beauty school, I don’t try to suppress that from her,” said Ashley’s mom, Shannon Smith. “I let her do what she wants to do with her hair, I help her do it.” Smith helped her daughter dye her hair in the bathtub at their Auburn apartment a few weeks ago. Mother and daughter bleached the underneath hair layers and applied Manic Panic Hot Hot Pink dye. They also added pink streaks at the top of Ashley’s naturally auburn hair. “It’s pretty cool looking, it’s who she is,” Smith said. “She can stand out a little. Redheads stand out no matter what.” But on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, Smith said Ashley was told by her principal that she had 72 hours to dye her hair back to normal or the eighth-grader wouldn’t be able to participate in graduation activities. School policy clearly states that students cannot have “unnatural colors” including blue, green, pink and purple. Ashley said she’s worn her hair several other unnatural colors before, but wasn’t targeted for those incidents. “I didn’t think they’d make such a big deal out of it. I didn’t think they’d not let me walk,” Ashley said. “Nobody even cared, it wasn’t even a big deal to (students). It wasn’t a distraction to everybody.” Ashley dyed the fuschia-colored layers of her hair to black this week, but feels it’s not fair, especially since other students have dyed hair. “I don’t think that’s fair at all because it’s part of my right as a citizen. In history we’ve been studying the Constitution all year, and expression is one of my rights as a citizen. You can’t take something that important away from someone.” Kathleen Daugherty, Newcastle Elementary School superintendent/principal, said the school’s dress code prohibits unnatural hair colors because they can disrupt instruction. Daugherty went on to say the student is not being barred from graduation activities because of her hair color, but because her parent has unpaid bills owed to the school. She said now that Ashley’s color is back to a natural shade, she would be allowed to participate in the June 4 graduation if bills were paid. Smith acknowledges that around $470 is due, but doesn’t think Ashley should be punished for that. “I’m a single mom,” she said, alluding to financial hardships. “ I owe the money, she doesn’t.” The popularity of hair dye with younger teens can cause problems in school, Daugherty said. “Yes (it is a distraction) because other kids start commenting on hair and students get mad if someone makes fun of their hair,” she said. “The moment when a way of dressing or hair color causes a distraction in the classroom, it can no longer be toleratated.” All parents sign a contract at the beginning of the school year acknowledging the dress code, Daugherty said. Ironically, Thursday was Crazy Hair Day at Newcastle Elementary School, where students were allowed to sport green and purple hair colors.