Not long ago, J.T. Gaskins was honored on his high school's "Wall of Fame" for perfect behavior.
Now he's doing school work from home after being suspended by the governing board of his charter school over the length of his hair.
The 17-year-old leukemia survivor said he decided over the holidays to grow out his hair and donate it to Locks of Love after learning that the sister of a family friend had cancer.
In the process, officials at Madison Academy in Burton ruled Monday that Gaskins' hairstyle is violating school policy.
Despite his suspension, the teen says he isn't planning to cut his hair and hopes the board of the charter school near Flint will reconsider.
"I fought cancer my entire life. I'm going to keep fighting this," he said. "I'm not going to not give back just because my school says no."
Gaskins' mother, Christa Plante, says she supports her son's effort "100 percent."
On Monday, she launched a petition on Change.org asking the school to amend its hair policy for boys to allow them to grow it for charity donation.
Plante said her son has been assisted by charities over the years, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Now he's ready to do his part, she said.
"He's seen how it works and how it helped people, how it helped us," she said. "This is for him. He wants to do it now. This feels right."
The online petition, addressed to the academy and its school board, had more than 1,000 signatures late Friday and asks for a hair "donation policy" that would allow students to sign a promissory note with the school, research the cause and keep their hair well-maintained until they cut and donate it. They would then give the school a copy of their donation certificate.
"I'm fighting for them to make it an option for kids to grow out their hair for Locks of Love, to make it a part of the school and raise awareness for all cancer charities out there that can help patients," Gaskins said. "It wouldn't be a change to where people find a loophole just to grow out their hair."
Madison Academy on Friday referred calls to Will Kneer, vice president of Romine Group Inc., in Utica, which manages the school.
Kneer told the Associated Press the board has decided to keep its policy for now.
Gaskins says he plans to wait until after graduation in May to cut his hair; the time coincides with his last annual visit for a blood screening at the cancer clinic. The teen said he was diagnosed with cancer as an infant and has been in remission since he was 7.
Gaskins said his hair has to be at least 10 inches long in a ponytail for the donation. Right now, it's about 21/2 inches, he said.
The school's student handbook posted on the district's website requires boys' hair to be "clean, neat, free of unnatural or distracting colors, off the collar, off the ears and out of the eyes."
Since his hair isn't very long yet, Kneer said he proposed that Gaskins use styling gel, put the hair in cornrows or simply comb it to comply with the rules.
"I need his hair out of his eyes and off the collar," Kneer told the Associated Press. "I really want this boy to be back in school. I feel like combing his hair wouldn't be a big concession … He doesn't have hair down the middle of his back. It's an inch over his collar."
Gaskins said the recommendation for cornrows "doesn't even sound like a compromise."
Lauren Kukkamaa, communications director for Locks of Love, said the organization has heard of other issues arising over hair donations in schools and workplaces because of regulations and policies.
She says while hair donations are vital to the volunteer-based organization, there are other ways to get involved, including fundraisers. "There are so many ways to support Locks of Love, and we are truly grateful for all of those efforts and this young man and his desire to give back," Kukkamaa said. "But certainly, we understand the school has its reasons for having certain policies in place."
The student handbook also bars spiked hair, Mohawks, ponytails or pigtails, and says braids must not touch the collar or must be pinned or braided above the collar. Gaskins and Plante say they plan to attend the board's Feb. 27 meeting if the issue isn't resolved.
"I'm fine with all of their rules," Gaskins said. "I just think that with this, they could try to make a compromise."