Alicia Romero, a professional hairstylist, has created trendy mohawks for many young clients.
But when she fashioned a short spiky version for her 10-year-old son Heston’s hair, he got in trouble for breaking his school’s dress code.
Officials at Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy where Heston Proctor is a fifth grader, called it a “distraction.” After a couple of days of noncompliance recently they gave him a choice of plastering it down or sitting out the day in the office. Instead, his father Shay Proctor took him home on two days and kept him out of school another day.
“Heston’s hair looks awesome. It’s not blue, it’s not blocking anyone’s view,” says Romero, who lives in Pueblo and works in a salon there.
In the world of hairstyling, Heston’s hair is called a "fauxhawk” – shaved short on the sides and spiked. It’s considered tame compared to say, the libertyhawk that has tall spikes all over, looking like the Statue of Liberty.
“He was so proud of his hair and was upset. He asked me if he looked bad,” Shay Proctor said.
The father sees it as an issue of individual freedom. “This is a public school and other public schools have kids that wear spikes, Afros and lots of other styles.”
Heston says his hair has never caused kids to not study.
“I like my hair and want to keep it,” he says. “But I’m tired of the drama.”
Hirsute battles like this have gone on forever. Pilgrims in the 17th century were derisively called roundheads for cutting their hair when long Cavalier locks were the norm. Women who cut their hair in Bobs in the 1920s were considered scandalous.
And don’t forget duck tails, unwashed hippie hair, dreadlocks, Afros, mullets, corn rows and shaved heads, which have all run into trouble at one time or another with school districts, employers and parents everywhere.
Heston, since kindergarten has attended Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy in Cheyenne Mountain School District 12. He is on the honor roll. He always wears the school uniform of blue slacks, light blue or white shirt, belt, hems that don’t touch the floor.
He had some stars shaved into his haircut, too, which he says drew no official complaints, and are now growing out. He used to wear an earring in his pierced ear, until school officials nixed that.
His 8-year-old sister was told not to wear black designs on her pink painted nails.Colin Mullaney, executive director of the charter school, says the dress code helps students focus on learning and maintains “good taste and modesty.”
School, in a sense, is like a job interview or the workplace. “It shows you are serious about what you are doing,” he says.
There are a half dozen pages in the school policy that addresses clothes and accessories, noting they can’t be too large, too tight, too long, too short, too dirty.
Girls can wear one set of small, discreet earrings. They can wear nail polish of a single color for all fingers of both hands. Nail decorations, including initials or patterns are forbidden. Boys may not wear earrings, makeup or nail polish. Common hair infractions for guys include having hair too long. For girls, it’s dyeing their locks purple or pink.
Code breaches are handled quickly and as informally as possible, Mullaney said. Often, the student is asked to plaster down with water the offending style. Sometimes a so-called “oops form” is sent home, warning of an infraction. Parents are sometimes called to school.
“Of course, we want to work with them and keep the kids in school,” Mullaney says.
Romero says she has mixed feelings about the situation because, “I really love the education my kids are getting.”
CMCA and its upper grades, called Vanguard School, is a public school that has consisently scored high in state assessments and other tests such as ACT.
As for D-12’s dress code, “The bottom line is it deals with distractions and common decency,” Superintendent Walt Cooper says. “If they don’t cause danger or distraction from learning, then they would be acceptable.”
He says some students sport mohawks, colored hair and such in D-12.
But he notes that charter schools more often put students in uniforms and have stiffer regulations. “That is part of their attractiveness to some parents.”
Charters can get waivers to make their own policies, but they must comply with state and U.S. laws.
The American Civil Liberties Union nationwide has often gone to bat for students and employees in dress code battles, including where an offending style is worn for ethnic or religious reasons.
In an Oregon case over pink bangs in 2005, the ACLU maintained public school students have a constitutional right to control the appearance of their hair as long as they don’t create a health and safety hazard. The ACLU persuaded the school district to disregard its policy on unnatural hair color without court intervention. “Uniformity and conformity should not be the highest goals of public school,” ACLU told the school officials.
In a New Orleans case last year, a federal court sided with the ACLU, saying a judge overstepped bounds in forcing a juvenile on probation to cut his hair or go to jail.
Last week, Heston’s hair battle subsided. His father shaved the raised portion of Heston’s hair in the back, and his hair is growing out more on the sides. School officicals said it is looking more in compliance.
But Shay Proctor still thinks hairstyle should be an individual choice.
“Learning who you are and showing that individuality is part of growing up and learning, too,” he says.