Unnatural? Rylee MacKay was kept out of class because of her hair color. (Photo: MacKay family via Facebook)In the past few months, schools have banned everything from yoga pants and Ugg boots to birthday candles and peanut butter sandwiches. But one Utah middle school is cracking down on hair color—even if the color in question isn't a garish blue or green but just a dark shade of red.
After being kicked out of class last week for dyeing her brown hair auburn, an honors student at a Utah middle school has been allowed to return to school—but only after she toned down her hair color.
Though Rylee MacKay, 15, had been dyeing her hair the same shade every six weeks since September, it wasn't until earlier this month that the school took issue with the color. On Feb. 4, Hurricane Middle School vice principal Jan Goodwin spotted Rylee in the halls and ordered her into the office. She had just had her hair touched up two days earlier.
The Washington County School District dress code states that "Hair, including beards, mustaches and sideburns, should be groomed so that it is neat and clean. Hair color must be a naturally occurring color; i.e. red, brown, black, blonde." And while Rylee's stylist had assured her that her new color complied with the dress code, Goodwin felt that Rylee's auburn-hued hair didn't look natural enough.
"In the light he said it was pinkish-purplish," Rylee told KUTV. "He told me to have it fixed by the next day or I couldn't come back to school."
But she didn't want to dye her hair back to brown—and her mother refused to make her.
"I absolutely am not going to dye it brown. That is not an option," Amy MacKay told Utah news station KSL.com on Sunday. Rylee had a hard time with the family's move to Hurricane two and a half years ago, MacKay said, and when she was finally allowed to dye her hair last year she felt better about herself. "My daughter feels beautiful with the red hair. Changing her hair really changed her; she really blossomed," she explained. "And now I have to say, 'No, sorry, you have to dye it brown?' I'm not going to change it back."
MacKay said that the district's hair policy is too open to interpretation. "It's totally his opinion whether it's too bright or not," she told KSL.com. "There's no set standard, no hair palette you can look at and say, 'OK, I'll go with that red'."
But school officials insist that the rules are not arbitrary.
"We deal with dress code issues nearly every day, specifically hair issues maybe once per week," Hurricane Middle School Principal Dr. Roy Hoyt, explained to Yahoo! Shine in an interview on Tuesday. "Most of the time it is a situation where students color their own hair and it doesn't come out as they had intended."
"Most of time it is a judgement call for the administration," Hoyt added. "This student's hair did not meet the expectation of naturally colored hair. We apply this standard consistently to all students and nearly every parent is supportive."
After four days of washing her hair at home, Rylee's hair had faded enough to be acceptable to school administrators, and she was allowed back in class. "All I wanted to do was just get back to school," she told KUTV on Monday. Hoyt confirmed that Rylee's hair now met school standards, even though she hadn't re-dyed it.
"We are small school in a conservative community," he told Yahoo! Shine. "While this policy may seem restrictive, it does establish a behavioral expectation. When these standards/expectations are established and enforced for seemingly small things it provides for a school culture where more egregious offenses are less likely to occur."
Parents and former students took to Facebook to weigh in on the controversy.
"My daughter went through the same thing there last year, but they told her she could stay because there were only three days left of school," Elizabeth Ebert said in response to a local newspaper's poll about MacKay's hair color on Facebook. "However, they also told me she would have to change it back in order to start school this year."
"I went to HMS about 6 years ago and this doesn't shock me one bit," Danielle Ritchey said in response to a local newspaper's poll. "This school really needs to focus on things that matter, like drug use, sex, and peer bullying and stop those…. I'm pretty sure the long term effects of being a drug user or a teen mom are a lot worse than putting some color in one's hair."
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