Pre-kindergartner Taylor Pugh likes his floppy hair just how it is: long on the front and sides, covering his earlobes and shirt collar.
But his long locks violate the dress code in his suburban Dallas school district. So Taylor again Wednesday found himself facing in-school suspension, sitting in a library with a teacher's aide while his friends played and learned together in a classroom.
"They kicked me out that place," said Taylor, 4, who prefers the nickname Tater Tot. "I miss my friends."
Taylor's parents say he plans to eventually cut his hair and donate it to a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients. But they're not happy with the district's rules.
It appears the school district "is more concerned about his hair than his education," said Taylor's father, Delton Pugh. "I don't think it's right to hold a child down and force him to do something ... when it's not hurting him or affecting his education."
Pugh, a tattoo artist, said he used to shave his own head but that his son "made me pinky promise I would let my hair grow long with him."
The follicle fight came to a head last month when Taylor's parents received a signed letter from Floyd Elementary School's principal, threatening to withdraw the boy from school if his hair didn't comply with district standards.
When Taylor's parents didn't budge, their son was suspended.
'He wants his long hair'
Elizabeth Taylor, Taylor's mother, said her son is "an individual. He wants his long hair."
When the boy returned late last month, his hair was longer than ever. But school officials decided suspension was too harsh and changed the punishment to a modified in-school suspension.
"They still have regular classroom work, but in an isolated environment," Mesquite Independent School District spokesman Ian Halperin said. "We expect students ... to adhere to the code of conduct."
According to the district dress code, boys' hair must be kept out of the eyes and cannot extend below the bottom of earlobes or over the collar of a dress shirt. Fads in hairstyles "designed to attract attention to the individual or to disrupt the orderly conduct of the classroom or campus is not permitted," the policy states.
The district is known for standing tough on its dress code. Earlier this year, a seventh-grader in the district was sent home for wearing black skinny pants. His parents chose to home-school him.
On its Web site, the district says its code is in place because "students who dress and groom themselves neatly, and in an acceptable and appropriate manner, are more likely to become constructive members of the society in which we live."
A persistent violator could face additional suspensions, but such issues are handled on a case-by-case basis, Halperin said.
"We understand it may not be for everybody," Halperin said of the policy, "but those are the rules for this district."
Pugh said the issue is about more than hair. He said his son is being singled out, and that he has seen other male students in the district with hair much longer than Taylor's.
"Nobody wants to meet in the middle. It's all or nothing," Pugh said. "He's my son. I love him. I will back him to the end."