A 4-year-old Texas boy with long hair was given the unkindest cut of all — barred from his public kindergarten because of his locks.
Jessica Oates, 25, told TODAY.com that her son, Jabez, who hasn't had a haircut since birth, is stuck at home in limbo because the Mont Belvieu, Texas, school she enrolled him is in a district with a strict dress code. The wording bars boys with hair that goes below eyebrows, the ears or touches the collar; "inappropriate" hair accessories and pony tails are also forbidden.
But the single working mom was also told when she brought her son in for class last Thursday that she could file for an exemption for cultural or religious reasons — only to be told a day later that there would be no provision for her child. When she brought Jabez to school Monday morning with his hair put in a man-bun to conform to the wording of the dress code, she was told he wouldn't be admitted.
"(My son) was confused by the whole thing," the senior Oates told TODAY Parents. "He asked me, 'Mommy why can’t I go see my teacher?' 'Mommy, why can’t I see my friends?' So we even went inside the school to speak to the principal, but that just made it worse...
"At first I didn’t believe it impacted him as much as it did. He’s a smart, very observant little boy. Since Monday he has had been very angry. The only thing I have to attribute to it to besides what is happening with his school."
Oates says cutting Jabez's hair just to capitulate to the Barber's Hill Kindergarten Center isn't an option because its so much of her son's self-identity.
"At this point, it turned into more than a hair thing in this community, and I have gotten support from people who have been bullied here themselves," said Oates, who has launched an online petition and is trying to get the ACLU involved. "I don’t feel like I’m just fighting for myself and my own kid."
It's a stand, though, that she said has has gotten mostly vitriolic responses from other parents in the city of 4,000.
"I’ve been told, and it makes me so angry, we have been told to jump off a cliff," Oates said. "I’ve been told that me and my son and have a target on his back and we’re going to be ostracized. And most of the hatred has come from adults."
The school district released a statement to NBC News defending its policy as a staple of a "rigorous educational environment of high expectations for (local residents') children."
"Parents have a right to seek an appropriate educational setting for their child, just as Ms. Oates has the right to place her child in a district that reflects her personal expectations for standards of appearance," the statement reads. "There are procedures in place for addressing concerns over policy if it is Ms. Oates’ desire to have her son educated in Barbers Hill ISD. But we would and should justifiably be criticized if our district lessened its expectations or longstanding policies simply to appease."
A representative for the school board said that all parents sign a "Student Handbook Acknowledgement Form" that includes Dress Code policy at registration.
"Barbers Hill ISD has in place a policy for dress code exemptions for religious reasons, and has granted exemption to students in the past who have supplied documentation that was approved by the Board of Trustees. This information was communicated with the parent at registration," the rep explained by email.
Oates’ struggle comes as a similar battle is being waged by Faye Abunijmeh after her 9-year-old son who was banned in Joshua, Texas, outside of Dallas, over his long hair.
Her son, Habib, had been growing out his curly hair to reach the 12-inch length requirement to donate to cancer patients for the charity Wigs for Kids, according to CBS Dallas-Fort Worth. As of Monday, he attended class with a braid, which is a temporary loophole in the Joshua Independent School Board policy.
But Oates, says she's afraid that even if she finds a similar way to get her son back to his preferred school, it'll be a hollow victory.
"Even if I win, and Jabez gets to go to (that kindergarten)," she said, "do I send him to a school where people are going to potentially emotionally torment him?"