Oct. 25, 2012 at 4:17 PM ET
A teen from Canton, Ohio had to serve suspension after getting tangled up in a dispute with his high school about his hair.
Junior Zach Aufderheide served three days of in-school suspension this week due to his long tresses, which violate Canton South High School’s dress code. In a statement sent to TODAY.com, the school said it will now treat Zach’s efforts as part of a special community service project. However, Zach's family said it has not reached such an agreement with the school.
Zach, 17, has been growing out his hair to donate it to Locks of Love, a charity that provides wigs to children with hair loss who can’t afford them. He’s an inch short of the 10 inches he needs.
“Now that the school let me grow it this long, it would be a complete waste to get it cut now,” Zach told TODAY.com earlier this week.
After school officials told him three weeks into the school year that his hair could not be in a ponytail or past his shoulders, he appealed to the school board for an exception, at the principal’s suggestion.
Zach researched the school’s policy, which prohibits students from donning attire or hair that poses a hazard, disrupts class or obstructs others’ views. He maintains that his hair, which he wears in a neat ponytail, is not a disruption.
School board upholds dress code
“What does disrupt the class is when I am pulled out of class to talk about my hair,” Zach contended at the board meeting, according to The Press-News.
He found the board members sympathetic, adding that they commended his effort — but in the end, decided at a successive meeting 5-0 to uphold the dress code.
“They wouldn’t even look at him,” his mom, Robin Aufderheide, told TODAY.com. “It was kind of heartbreaking.”
Zach's mom said speaking at the board meeting was no easy task. He’s a shy guy who took special classes at his old school to help him overcome his fears, she explained. Zach faced bullying in elementary school, which motivated him to help children who are different due to hair loss to fit in. He has donated to Locks of Love once before.
“It’s not just wigs for kids but others who are financially not able to buy one,” Zach said. “So I want people like them to feel good about themselves.”
Zach's mom: OK to bend the rules
Until its change of heart Thursday, the school had insisted that rules are rules. Canton Local School Board President John Martin told NBC local affiliate WKYC: “Policy says you can’t have that long of hair or ponytail, regardless of the cause.”
Zach's mother has fully supported her son all along, and maintains that sometimes it’s OK to bend the rules.
“I understand that they need to teach the kids rules and responsibility but you also need compassion and caring and to be flexible,” she said.
Zach is a good student and is not known as a troublemaker. After achieving a GPA of 3.5 last year, Zach is earning college credits for some of his courses this year, and is on track to graduate with honors. His favorite subjects are psychology and programming. At home, Zach, loves video games and wants to go into computer science one day.
“I am sort of a bubble person,” he said. “I’m not completely anti-social. I do like talking to people in person but I do prefer my personal space. All this attention at first was really overwhelming.”
Zach said he’s been the recipient of high fives at school and strangers are supporting him on his Facebook page, which is called "One More Inch for Zachary Aufderheide" and has more than 450 likes. He says he’s not used to the accolade, calling it “humbling.”
Zach said he’d also like to part with his long tresses, which are high maintenance, but he wants to reach his goal first.
“Long hair is a bother when it needs cleaning and combing. In the end, I do think it’s worth it, if I can help someone in need,” he said. “Having tangles in your hair doesn’t compare to being bullied for five years of your life.”
TODAY.com contributor Jasmin Aline Persch battles with her tangly hair everyday. Her hair usually wins.