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School Bullies Special Needs Boy

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When enforcing the dress code will crush a young boy's self-esteem and give school bullies more ammunition, shouldn't the rules be bent?

Dale Platts
Most kids will do anything not to stand out in school--no one wants to be teased for being different. Dale Platts knows all too well what being singled out feels like. Since he was a baby, Dale has had a medical condition called alopecia areata, which causes hair loss. Perpetual baldness has led Dale to keep his head covered with his cherished New York Yankees cap. The problem is, his school has a ban on baseball caps. So now, 13-year-old Dale stays home and is missing classes.

Dale contracted alopecia when he was 5 months old, which caused him to lose his hair, toenails and fingernails--but he wasn't uncomfortable about it until the relentless teasing began when he was 11 years old and entering middle school. Since then, he has never left the house without donning his cap.

His mother, Kenina Platts, 41, said: 'It's really cruel. I'm outraged the school can be so shortsighted. He wears the hat for medical reasons--it's not a fashion statement. Dale has to suffer at the hands of child bullies. Now the school itself is pressuring him and bullying him. It is punishing him for being bald." Dale makes his desire to end the conflict quite clear: "I just want to go to school and not get bothered." But the school doesn't seem to be budging. The head at Robert Pattison School says, "Baseball caps just give out the wrong impression."

Ryan McDonald

It's not the first time a boy with alopecia has run into trouble. Last month, 15-year-old Ryan McDonald of Tennessee, who also suffered from the disease, was shot and killed by a classmate at school. "Ryan was the target of endless teasing as a child. He tried to have a tough exterior--like a shield--to fit in," his uncle Roger McDonald said.

Bullying, a common part of everyday life for some kids, is compounded when a child stands out as being "different." Ross Ellis, founder and chief executive officer of Love Our Children USA, says, "Parents and the teachers should reach out and help kids understand what other classmates might be going through. Some schools are working towards change and programs to raise awareness about bullying, but Ellis thinks more needs to be done: "I feel the schools around the country could be doing a much better job teaching kindness and compassion."

When it comes to the dress code, should the school make an exception for a boy with special needs?

43 comments so far | Post a comment now
Alexia September 11, 2008, 10:09 AM

Honestly, if the kid feels more secure with the hat on his head, then the school should let it go. Obviously he’s already being teased and that probably won’t change, but if he feels more confident with a hat - let him! It’s not like he can afford a wig.

Miss Suzy September 11, 2008, 11:00 AM

Middle school stinks for everyone but with someone who stands out — like a child with alopecia, or like my son who has autism — it can be a nightmare.

My state has a scholarship for special needs students that allows parents to take state money and apply it to tuition in a private school of their choice. I would consider fighting for something like that. Get an attorney. Big public schools are machines and you kinda need weaponry to fight a big machine. Do anything to alleviate the child’s teasing! Whatever it takes. My son is now in private school, by the way.

mom 5 September 11, 2008, 12:10 PM

i really think thats awful how kids tease other kids for some reason or other. my daugter get pick on a lot the kids are always mean to her. but when she tells me something about someone else i always tell her how do you feel when the other kids do that to you. maybe he can get a school hat lots of schools have their own hats. callthe school and find out maybe they can have them made.

momof3girls September 11, 2008, 1:43 PM

Bend the rules vs. Don’t bend the rules seems to be the big debate. It seems that bullying is a universal issue but has very different ways of dealing with the problem. The schools I have worked at have been very understanding about making exceptions as needed, even to the point of sending the school psychologist into the classes to discuss the issue and how to behave towards the student. Maybe this is not a viable option for this student. However, it is the parents responsibility to encourage their child to be proud of who they are and stand with their head held high, regardless of outward appearance. While middle school is an especially difficult time in a young persons life, if the student shows that the issue is really a non issue to them other will follow suit. We all have the choice to be a victim of circumstances or a victor over circumstances.

Susan September 11, 2008, 2:41 PM

First of all, I don’t agree with dress codes to begin with. Sure, there should be SOME basic guidelines (kids don’t need to be showing up for school with their jeans an inch or two lower than their thong or with see-thru clothing or what have you), but other than that, they should be able to wear what they’re comfortable in! But ok, if that’s not an option for this particular school, then have a heart and realize that this particular rule did not have EVERYONE in mind when it was made, and therefore, there should be an exception made for a medical issue!!

Violet's Mom September 11, 2008, 2:46 PM

OK, here’s a thought - rules are made to protect us, correct? Well, if a rule that’s been made is actually doing more harm than good (such as in this case), then it is obviously flawed!

Do the right thing and have some respect and compassion for this poor kid and his condition - growing up is hard enough without adding a medical condition and having to deal with bullies because of it.

renee September 11, 2008, 3:16 PM

why cant they bend the rules and let him wear a hat with the school logo instead? sounds like the the people in charge are pretty heartless

nora September 11, 2008, 5:29 PM

While I support the boy and his rights I would advise the parents to get the boy a hairpiece. Other parents have to spend enormous amounts of money on a continuing basis, for chronic diseases, like diabetes and autism. This is not that expensive, and all his life he will do better with hair. If he had lost a leg would you want him to hop around on one foot and endure stares? Of course not… get him some hair.

Mary September 11, 2008, 6:42 PM

I work as a special needs teacher in a middle school and believe that this boy needs to be allowed to wear his hat. This inflexible attitude is what is wrong with education in this country. Come on!! Help this boy out.

Kadi September 11, 2008, 7:00 PM

It could be one of the teachers kids that are bullying! The parents never believe their kid would bully. If you make known to the school who is bullying and it continues the bully should be expelled, then the parents would do something, if not, well they are not the schools problem. What’s wrong with caps, how many kids of all backgrounds wear them?? Whats the wrong message here? You pay taxes so your child can be taught in a safe enviroment, why would you want again pay for home schooling? Its not free to home school

Kristen September 11, 2008, 10:01 PM

I’ve had alopeica for 5 years. 3 of those years I was in high school. For those who say he should just get a hair piece, it’s not always that simple. I wore a wig for 2 years and it was just not me, not to mention they are expensive. If you buy a cheaper one they have to be replaced more often and medical insurances usually don’t cover any of it! My high school made an exception for me and I think they should make one for him as well. I feel like to home school him would be kind of avoiding the whole situation. Bullying is going to happen in all schools but it doesn’t seem like they are doing much to stop it.

007blond September 11, 2008, 11:43 PM

MY 19 year old son has Brain cancer. He has no hair due to chemo. 80% of the other children that we see at his Oncology Dr. office has no hair. Guess what? The kids don’t care and the parents don’t care. Hair lost is such a small thing when your child is fighting for their life.
Mom should encourage Dale to leave home without his hat.
I think Mom should help Dale see that being different is not only OK but cool.
I think if the school treat Dale different from the other kids, that will only single him out more. The school should never tolerate bulling or prejudice of any kind.

mama September 12, 2008, 7:54 PM

My son has autism and walks on his tip toes and i know what you and your son are going threw the “staring” whispering walking away from you like your a Monster. I say let your son wear his favorite hat, Mama family here are behind you 100%. Take care

LAURA September 16, 2008, 3:04 PM

Home schooling limits a child from a social environment which all humans need. That homeschool suggestion is just another example of some people’s SAD idea that people with disabilites should not be seen and not be heard.

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