Eleven-year-old Delaney Clements is fighting cancer. In 2010, she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Delaney, according to news reports, is very sick.
One in 300 boys and one in 333 girls under age 20 will develop cancer. But those numbers don't really matter in this particular story. What matters is Delaney.
To her family and her friends, Delaney isn't 1 in 333 girls. She is one in a million.
Because of chemo, Delaney lost her hair. I do not know Delaney. And I don't want to pretend that I know what losing her hair means to her. But I'm going to guess that it's been horrible. Cancer is hell, and losing your hair is hard.
Delaney has a friend named Kamryn Renfro who is in third grade. And Kamryn, who is only in the third grade, did something truly beautiful and brave. She shaved her head this past weekend. She shaved her head to show Delaney, who is fighting for her life, that she isn't alone.
I said I don't know Delaney, and I don't know Kamryn either -- but I think she's an incredible little girl. When I was in third grade, I cared a lot about "fitting in" with the other kids. I wanted to look as much like everyone else as I could. Wanting to fit in is probably pretty common for third-grade girls. But, Kamryn did the opposite. She stood out. And she stood out for one reason: for Delaney.
The story, even if it stopped here, is enough to make the news. A third-grade girl shaved her head to support her dear friend who fights cancer. Because Kamryn demonstrates such tremendous kindness and compassion at such a young age, shaving her head is enough to make a few headlines.
But Kamryn did not make the news in the last few days simply because she shaved her head. Kamryn made the news because shaving her head got her suspended from school. Kamryn shaved her head over the weekend to support Delaney. And when she got to school on Monday, she wasn't allowed inside.
The third-grader was suspended because she VIOLATED HER SCHOOL'S DRESS CODE by shaving her head in solidarity with a friend who fights cancer.
There is a strict dress code at Caprock Academy, Kamryn's state-affiliated, tuition-free, public charter school in Grand Junction, Colorado.
"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," said Catherine Norton Breman, president and chair of the school's board of directors, in a statement. "Under this policy, shaved heads are not permitted."
Indeed, the website for Caprock Academy lists these rules:
Ladies' Hair: Should be neatly combed or styled. No shaved heads. Hair accessories must be red, white, navy, black or brown. Neat barrettes, headbands and "scrunchies" are permissible. Hair should not be arranged or colored so as to draw undue attention to the student. Hair must be natural looking and conservative in its color. Radical changes in hair color during the school year are unacceptable.
I could write at length about why I strongly disagree with the Caprock Academy dress code. They say it promotes "safety" and "uniformity." I say it blindly promotes conformity. And the peculiar language about "natural looking" hair truly concerns me. That said, today isn't the day for me to outline my thoughts on dress codes -- but I do want to point out that I am not against all dress codes at all schools at all times.
I'd like to get back to what happened to Kamryn. She shaved her head and was barred from school on Monday. On Tuesday, after this crazy story made the news, she was re-admitted to school temporarily. And last night, the Caprock Academy School Board held an emergency meeting. They voted 3-1 in favor of making an exception for Kamryn and allowed her back at school.
Three to one. Yes, she can return. But one school board member still disagrees!
"I believe Caprock has a mission and a vision and that mission and vision elevates critical thinking and puts it above emotionally charged decisions," the dissenting school board member said, according to The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. "My fear is this sets a precedent and nudges us down a path we don't want to follow."
A path we should not follow? What path? Tolerance. Compassion. Empathy. Understanding. Kindness.
Kamryn was barred from her school for shaving her head and now she doesn't "fit in" with the school dress code.
I would guess that Delaney would like to "fit in" too. I would guess that she would like to look the way the other kids do, the kids who aren't sick and don't have cancer. I would guess that more than anything the people who love Delaney wish she hadn't lost her hair because they wish that she didn't have Stage 4 neuroblastoma.
And I'm now going to stop writing about Caprock Academy and its ridiculous dress code. Because that's not what's important. What's important is what Kamryn did and why she did it. She did it to stand with her friend Delaney in her fight.
And, Delaney, we do not know you, but we stand with you too.
This post appeared on Mammalingo on March 26, 2014.