Interesting civics lesson

The pink hair controversy at West Iron County High Schools has proved to be an interesting civics lesson.

It involved a student’s desire to publicly support his mother’s fight against breast cancer, and a school district’s ability to enforce its athletic code policy.

The story has gone viral.

Besides The Daily News, it has been carried in the Detroit News, Fox News, Boston.com, ABC News, Grand Haven Tribune, WBAY Green Bay, and Good Morning America, to name a few.

West Iron County High School student and track athlete Mike Barker wanted to show his support for his mother’s fight against breast cancer by dyeing his mohawk-style hair bright pink.

However, the school has a dress code prohibiting athletes from sporting excessive hairstyles, and a pink mohawk is an excessive hairstyle.

After Barker was told he could not participate in a track meet, many in the local community and throughout the nation have rallied around his cause.

Barker had been planning on dying his hair for his mother for several months. His mother, Wendy Pawlicki, has survived three bouts of breast cancer.

“My mom was wondering if I could do my mohawk with pink in it,” Barker explained. “I just didn’t have the time during football or basketball, so I promised her I would do it for track.”

However, his decision was not welcomed by school officials.

Barker said that he was called in to multiple meetings with his principal and coaches.

“They told me to cut my hair before the track meet,” he said. “That it was excessive.”

Barker chose to keep his pink mohawk for the track team’s first meet in Eagle River, Wis. on March 27. He was waiting on a school bus bound for the meet when he said he was approached by his coach.

According to Barker, his coach told him that he could not participate in the meet with his hair as it was. Barker then left the bus, joined by some of his fellow teammates.

“My friends said ‘we’ll leave too’,” he said. “They didn’t go to the meet either.”

Barker has not only found encouragement from his friends. A Facebook group dedicated to Barker’s cause had attracted approximately thousands of members from across the country.

The support has touched Barker.

“I want to thank all those people who are supporting me and sharing the love,” he said.

The issue is one of freedom of expression for students versus a school’s ability and duty to maintain order within the school system.

On March 28, West Iron Superintendent Chris Thomson issued a statement regarding the situation.

“The West Iron County Public Schools supports the needs of the students to express themselves, as long as their expression does not interfere with the educational process,” he said. “We also strive to balance individualism of athletes with the concept of team that fit within our athletic code.”

At that time, Thomson emphasized that the school wanted to work with Barker and his family to find a resolution.

“The student was not dismissed from the team and we welcome his participation in the future,” he added.

Then, on Tuesday, the school announced that an agreement has been reached in the case.

In a joint press release from Barker’s family and West Iron County Schools, the parties stated that they met Monday morning to discuss the issue.

The statement said Barker’s mother, Wendy Pawlicki, said had she battled breast cancer five years ago and has been cancer-free since. She is currently in good health.

School officials expressed their regret that Barker was not allowed to participate in the track meet as a result of the interpretation of the athletic policy.

Barker will be allowed to continue to participate in track, they said.

The school now plans to appoint a committee comprised of representatives of the community, students, coaches, and the school board to review the current athletic policy.

Barker was asked to be part of this committee, which will report its recommendations to the school board.

This is encouraging news.

Through compromise and democracy, pink hair is no longer a controversial issue in Iron County.