Kamryn Renfro, nine years old, did something extraordinary last weekend. She shaved her head. Why was this extraordinary? She did so, in support of her friend Delaney Clements, who is eleven years old, and has stage 4 cancer (neuroblastoma). Clements said of her friend’s gesture “I was really excited I would have somebody to support me and I wouldn’t be alone with people always laughing at me.” She told local Fox affiliate KDVR, “I would at least have somebody to go through it all.”
A compassionate gesture and a true testament of friendship is wonderful, but hardly newsworthy. It did not become newsworthy until her school, Caprock Academy, in Grand Junction, Colorado suspended her because of it. Renfro was barred from the school and told she could not return until her hair grew back. I am trying to avoid exclamation points, but it is proving difficult. What were they thinking! Okay, I can continue…
This violated a school dress code, which states students could not shave their heads or even color their hair in the middle of the school year. “Caprock Academy does have a detailed dress code policy, which was created to promote safety, uniformity, and a non-distracting environment for the school’s students,” school president Catherine Norton Breman explained. “Under this policy, shaved heads are not permitted.”
And this is where I have to stop again. Most people are as outraged and disgusted at these thoughtless, bordering callous actions as I am. To be clear, there were not extenuating circumstances. Kamryn was only suspended due to a dress code violation. And this is where I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance policies, at least if this is the end result. While it is not a policy, I have no tolerance for arrogance, ignorance and stupidity, which are the three things this school’s actions are screaming. The school did let Kamryn return after severe social media backlash and news coverage. Hmmm, imagine that?
I keep trying to play devil’s advocate and see the school’s point of view, however, every time I do it only makes me more appalled with the school and its officials. What if Renfro had been the one with cancer, would she still have been suspended for shaving her head before her hair fell out on its own because of chemotherapy? What if Renfro was transgender and felt uncomfortable with the longer hair required of her because she was biologically female? What if her family was Buddhist and made the choice to be bald? This is where the ignorance comes in.
The school knew why Renfro shaved her head when they sent her home. When asked about it by local press, their president simply recited the dress code (which seems to be a major problem, all on its own). They only called a special emergency meeting of the school’s board of directors because of the negative press they were receiving, in order to vote if they should allow Kamryn to return to school, by making her an exception to a faulty rule. The vote was not unanimous, but 3-1. This is where the arrogance comes in.
The entire reason the policy exists is to create a safe environment for students to learn without distraction. How distracting is this media storm? How safe do kids feel in stepping out of the box in ways that build character and embody compassion and selflessness? The school knew why she shaved her head and they still sent her home in the first place. They were unable or unwilling to use empathy, good judgment or even common sense when enforcing the dress code the way that they did. This is where the stupidity comes in. And I mean stupidity of the ugliest variety.
When I was ten and eleven I was mostly bald because I had several VP shunt surgeries (back then they still shaved heads if you had brain surgery). My school’s dress code forbade hats or any kind of headwear. And yet, rather than punish me or make me walk around embarrassed and self-conscious (because that would be a distraction interfering with my learning) my fifth grade class did something extraordinary. I had organized a few parties (teacher appreciation, for different students, etc. – yep even back then) and they came up with some crazy excuse to get me out of the room. It was an errand of some kind, which didn’t make me suspect a thing because again, I loved such errands. When I returned they had a surprise for me. They had decorated a shirt and a hat that they all signed with fabric paint. Not only was I allowed to wear a hat, but my class made me one that reinforced I was not alone.
If this was my child, I would be immensely proud of her (or him). I would not ask for the school board’s permission because children are sensitive and pick up on nuances and subtleties. I would not want to have them believe that what they proposed was anything short of extraordinary. I would give the school a head’s up and let that be that. IF the school my child attended tried to pull this there would be a Mama Michael firestorm so severe that for years the board of directors would wonder, ‘What would Michael think?’ and tremble at the thought of crossing a line. Hell hath no fury like a redhead scorned.
I keep calming my anger (injustice really gets me going) by reminding myself of the other children. Shaming the school does not do the children who attend any good; in fact it does the opposite. BUT forcing the school’s hand in amending a ridiculous policy with strategic backlash, pretty much contemplating it (and whoever on the board voted against Kamryn’s return should seriously step down or be impeached). I just find it alarming that a group of educators can taint such a beautiful act. Kamryn showed more compassion than many adults I know ever have. She should be commended, not punished.
This sends so many negative messages to the very kids they are supposed to be teaching.
- Appearances mean more than being a kind human being.
Do not try to be an individual; you need to be like everyone else.
The world is black and white. If it is against the rule, it is wrong, without exception.
And the list goes on…
Luckily, I know that educators who are this thick (nicest way to put it) are the minority. I know so many wonderful teachers, but since they’re not pulling crap like this, they don’t make the news (much anyway). Many of them were just as upset and baffled when they heard about this as I was, which made me feel a little better. This is not a new norm that I should prepare myself for when I have kids.
My husband has jokingly said that I am going to be that parent who is always in the principal’s office about something, and he is going to be the one they call whenever they have a problem, not having enough anti-anxiety drugs to deal with me. He is probably right to a point. I’m not going to be one of those parents who turns a blind eye to their child and thinks they are incapable of doing something wrong. I will mostly be the involved, PTA, curriculum night parent who wants to be involved in their child’s education and the school itself (much to my children’s dismay as they get older). BUT if my child ever had one of the bad teachers (a small minority mind you) that said something out of line to my child or if my child was ever discriminated against I would morph from a school’s dream parent to one constantly invading their nightmares. I don’t put up with much, and when it comes to those I love I put up with even less.
But this is where I am at fault. I am angry that a school operates and teaches our children these incredibly skewed lessons that are the last thing most want their children learning. I am angry that Kamryn was given a hard time and that her friend Delaney felt bad about the whole thing. I am angry at the school’s response, before and after, and that it took this kind of backlash for them to reinstate Kamryn, by making her an exception.
But I cannot let the anger get to me, because at the heart of this story is an amazing little girl with a big heart, showing a selflessness beyond her years. So, let me end with this: Thanks Kamryn!
I am choosing to focus my thoughts on Kamryn who is a reminder of the individual miracles people can be and perform, because what she did was just that. Sometimes you have to break the rules to do the right thing, but it doesn’t make it any less right, it just means that particular rule is wrong (at least when it comes to that specific situation).
This girl with a freshly shaved head is a testament to the kindness people are capable of and should strive for. This is what we should be teaching in schools. This is a learning opportunity for Caprock Academy, and I hope in my heart of hearts they not only learn it, but learn to teach it to their students through their own actions and example.
Thank you for your amazing gift to your friend, Delaney, and to so many others who have at one time or another, had to go about their daily business, without their hair. When I was Delaney’s age, I also had to go to school bald and it was people like you who made me feel like I was not alone.
What you did was admirable, and I hope you know just how special it was. The friends who offered me their hair and made similar gestures made everything easier with their small acts of kindness. No matter what you learn in school, or out of school, remember that at the end of the day it is all about being kind. Just like you were when you shaved your head to support your friend.
You and Delaney are both beautiful without hair, on the inside and out. Keep being kind and there are no limits to what you can achieve and who you can affect.
With much admiration,
Former Chemo Patient