IRON RIVER—High school junior Michael Barker suddenly has a lot of friends that he didn’t know he had, and out of nowhere the West Iron County School District suddenly has a major brouhaha on its hands.
The issue: Barker’s pink Mohawk hairstyle and the school administration’s insistence that it violates school policy.
Barker was a member of the Wykon track team, but when he attempted to board a bus for a meet in Eagle River, Wis. last week, he was told he couldn’t ride along.
Reason? His hairstyle was judged “excessive” by administrators. He was told he could come along, but not with the colorful hairstyle.
Barker refused, several teammates joined him, and the school disciplinary matter quickly blew into a firestorm.
The dispute made the headlines in the Daily News and got full coverage on TV6. With social media fanning the flames, people across the country quickly learned about the pink hair controversy.
The district is on its spring break this week, giving the controversy time to bubble.
Barker, who wore an undyed Mohawk during the basketball season, said in news reports that he dyed his hair pink in support of his mother, Wendy Pawlicki, who has been battling breast cancer for some time.
He said his mother had asked him to dye his hair pink. Barker said he didn’t have time to do that for football or basketball, but he would do it for track season.
He kept his promise, and since then he had been called in for several meetings with his principal and coaches.
It all blew up last Thursday, March 27, when the Wykons were boarding a bus for the meet in Eagle River. Barker was on the bus with his teammates when he was told to get off.
Barker told the Daily News that his coach told him we couldn’t take part in the meet with his hair the way it was.
He left the bus, but he didn’t go alone. Seniors Chasz Jonet and Bryson Heimerl went along with him.
“You don’t let somebody walk off and get treated like that and not support them,” Jonet said to TV6.
“It was an easy choice, a very, very easy choice to support Michael,” Heimerl added.
That was hardly the only support shown to Barker. The Daily News said a Facebook group supporting Barker had about 1,500 members as of last Friday night.
In a statement, the school district said it supports the needs of students to express themselves “as long as their expression does not interfere with the education process.” It said the athletic department “will work with the student and parents to resolve the issue.”
The statement also said that Barker was not dismissed from the team and would be welcome to take part in West Iron athletics in the future.
The news reports said Barker is circulating a petition about the school district’s dress code and plans to eventually present it to the school board.