The North Texas school district that cited its dress code as the reason a student fighting terminal brain cancer could not wear her turquoise wig to school walked back its ruling Sunday.
McKinney ISD announced it will make an exception to its dress code and allow 17-year-old Kate Pepper to wear the colored wig to school, according to a district spokesperson.
Also on Sunday, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) wrote on Facebook that he would ask the school district to make an exception to its dress code for Pepper.
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"I am a strong supporter of clear rules for school discipline for Texas students," Patrick wrote. "But there are certain extraordinary circumstances that should create an exception to any rule and this is one of those times."
McKinney ISD said it came to its decision prior to Patrick's Facebook post.
"This week in school has been a little bit difficult for me," Pepper told NBC 5 Friday, as she recorded her latest YouTube video in her room of her McKinney home.
The difficult week, her first as a senior at McKinney High School, punctuated Pepper's years-long battle with anaplastic astrocytoma, a form of brain cancer. She was first diagnosed in 2014. She beat it then, but said she was diagnosed again two months ago.
"I was feeling bad, but I wasn't expecting it to be brain cancer again," she said.
The week before school started, Pepper began to lose her hair from chemotherapy and radiation. Still, she refused to let the change strip away her self-esteem.
"I found this wig," she said, her face lighting up. "I got super excited when I put it on. I felt awesome. I feel awesome right now."
But on Pepper's first day back, she said she was told by school administrators that her wig violated the dress code, which states that "non-natural colored hair that is considered to be disruptive (green, blue, purple, orange, etc.) is not permitted."
"I honestly just wanted to cry," Pepper said.
Her mom, Tyliece Pepper, said she wrote a letter to the principal and superintendent and asked them to reconsider. She received a reply letting her know the district is "not able to grant the ability to wear a wig with turquoise in it." A school staff member gave her daughter $65 cash to buy a new wig. But Kate Pepper said she didn't want to try new options on.
A spokesperson for McKinney ISD defended the district's actions at the time in a statement, saying it "will continue to work with the family to reach a positive resolution.”
"While our hearts go out to these families we must also remain consistent in our implementation of the student handbook, including the student dress code," the statement read. "The district has provided funds from a private donor to cover the cost of a new wig that meets dress code, and will continue to work with the family to reach a positive resolution.”
But to Kate Pepper, there was only one way to resolve the conflict. She wanted to continue to wear the turquoise wig.
"It's really not about the money, It's about the principle of you letting her wear the wig," Tyliece Pepper said. "She's fighting for her life. Why do we have to fight for this?"Student Dress Code (PDF)
Student Dress Code (Text)