The Real Story of Caprock Academy

Caprock AcademyA student at Caprock Academy of Grand Junction, Colorado, shaved her head to show solidarity with a friend fighting cancer. On that part of the story, everyone agrees.

Then, as the story goes in many popular accounts, the school callously kicked the student out of school, relenting only after media exposure and nationwide outrage forced it to. That part of the story is false.

Those interested in the real story—and that seems to be very few people indeed—may read on. Part of the real story is how irresponsible reporting fed a despicable witch hunt.

True, part of the real story is how a young charter school wrote an ill-planned dress and hair code and then substantially botched a public-relations crisis.

Let us begin with Caprock’s rules. Caprock has an extensive and rigorous dress code. It states, for example, “Clothing should not be excessively tight, or body hugging.” Although the school doesn’t require official uniforms, it does require uniform dress, specifying even the color and type of clothing that may be worn at school. The section on hair reads:

Ladies’ Hair: Should be neatly combed or styled. No shaved heads. Hair accessories must be red, white, navy, black or brown. Neat barrettes, headbands and “scrunchies” are permissible. Hair should not be arranged or colored so as to draw undue attention to the student. Hair must be natural looking and conservative in its color. Radical changes in hair color during the school year are unacceptable.

Personally I think this is overly demanding; if a girl wants to die her hair bright orange, I have no problem with that. But it’s not my school, and, within reason and within Constitutional limits (it is a government-funded school, after all), I think Caprock should be able to formulate its own policies.

The intent behind the “no shaved heads” rule seems to be to prevent shocking or gang-like behavior. Surely I do do not need to point out that head shaving is also part of the ritualistic practices of some very nasty sorts of people (hence the term “skin heads”).

But the rule does not adequately take into account the fact that people can shave their heads for perfectly reasonable reasons—as to undergo cancer treatment or to support a friend with cancer.

The rule book does take this into account to a degree. The rules (of which I have a copy) explicitly mention the concern with gangs—and they also explicitly allow for “medical or religious” exemptions:

Apparel advertising tobacco, alcohol, illegal substances, and/or offensive slogans are not acceptable attire at school- sponsored activities. Clothes making statements with sexual innuendoes are not allowed. The wearing of clothing, jewelry, or a style of grooming that is identified with membership in a gang will not be tolerated in school or at any school-sponsored activity. Apparel that interferes with or endangers self or others while participating in school or school sponsored-activities is not allowed. Dress will not be worn that causes or is likely to cause disruption of the educational process. The final decision as to the safety or unsuitability of the clothing, hair or jewelry will be left up to the Deans of Students. Anyone who cannot follow the dress code for medical or religious reasons should contact the Headmaster.

As has been correctly reported, the school issued a waiver to the student in question on precisely these grounds. The problem is that the rule’s default position is to allow no shaved heads; the default position should be that a “religious or medical” condition is presumed in cases of shaved heads (I mean, it’s not like there’s a racist “skin head” problem among young Grand Junction girls). The school should change its rules to explicitly allow for religious and medical exceptions, sans waiver. [March 27 Update: After more consideration, I think the school should add the following line to its rules: "Exceptions to this dress code may be made for bonafide religious, medical, or humanitarian reasons, as evaluated by the headmaster, acting headmaster, or school administrators."]

It might come as a surprise to many reading about the story to learn that the mother of the student in question is quite supportive of Caprock—although she sensibly argues the school should tweak its rules. Yesterday that woman, Jamie Renfro, posted the following on Facebook:

I would just like to say, from the bottom of our hearts…thank you! We never expected any of the support that we have received regarding Kamryn and Delaney. We are pleased with the decision that our school made to let Kamryn back in school today. She got up, got ready, and held her head high as she walked into her classroom this morning. To say her dad and I are proud, is a total understatement. Nate and I are so humbled from the outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and strangers. Our goal was just to get the shaved head policy at Kamryn’s school revised, and let her back in the classroom. That goal is on it’s way to being reached, with a meeting by the board being held this evening, as well as an invitation for Kamryn to return to school today. At no point during this ordeal was Kamryn’s school not supportive of her decision, nor show compassion…they just made a decision to enforce their dress code, which we were asking to be changed. They responded to all of our requests, and have treated us with nothing but respect the whole time. Now that we have seen just how much 2 little girls can change the world and touch so many hearts, we are asking for all of this attention to embrace awareness of childhood cancer. There are so many blessings that have come to light for our family the past couple of days, and we would like to use this as a platform, along with our best of friends…Delaney and Wendy, to remind everyone that Delaney is still in the fight of her life, and needs as much love, support and prayers as she can get. Thank you! Love, prayers, and hugs from the Renfro’s

Contrary to various media reports, at no point did Caprock try to deny the student a waiver. [January 27 Update: On Sunday, March 23, Jamie Renfro claimed that "the school" forbade her daughter to return to school until she grew her hair out. It is unclear to me whom Renfro contacted or what those parties discussed. On Monday the school's administrators announced the exemption hearing; it is unclear to me when precisely they reached the decision to hold a hearing. See the notes below.] Indeed, as Renfro points out, the school was consistently supportive of the student. What the school did do is follow its stated policies and pursue a waiver.

Following is the statement that Caprock sent out March 24:

It has come to our attention that reports have been circulating concerning a Caprock Academy student who has shaved her head to show solidarity with a friend who is fighting cancer. Caprock Academy does have a detailed dress code policy, which was created to promote safety, uniformity, and a non-distracting environment for the school’s students. Under this policy, shaved heads are not permitted. Exceptions, however, are sometimes made under exigent and extraordinary circumstances. While we cannot discuss the specifics of this situation, the Caprock Academy Board of Directors is calling a special meeting March 25, 2014, at 6:00 PM. The Board is expected to discuss this matter in executive session (discussions concerning individual students are conducted in executive session). We expect the Board will vote regarding a waiver of the policy following that executive session.

Catherine M. Norton Breman,
President and Chair of
Caprock Academy, Board of Directors

Although inanrtful, Breman’s remarks distinctly point to the waiver process already underway.

Unfortunately, various “journalists” quoted Breman out of context.

For example, a New York Daily News story from yesterday quoted included only this much: “In a statement released Monday, administrators said ‘shaved heads are not permitted.’” Okay, but the statement also discusses the exception waiver. Such “creative editing” is simply bad journalism. (The News‘s opening paragraph also wrongly implies that the school relented only in response to national outrage.)

Likewise, a story in USA Today quotes only part of Breman’s remarks, ignoring the part about the exception process already underway.

There is a lesson here for consumers of media: Do not assume that the story told by newspaper is the complete (or even an accurate) story, even if it appears in one of the most prestigious papers in the world. It is said that “half the truth is a great lie,” and the reporters for the New York Daily News and USA Today (among others) told only half the truth.

Thankfully, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel has been basically responsible in its reporting; see a first and second article there.

It is worth relating Caprock’s second statement, released yesterday:

Compassion and selfless acts of courage are to be commended and encouraged – in children and in adults -and we apologize that our policies and following our process for exceptions to those policies has, in any way, suggested that supporting any one’s but particularly a child’s, brave fight against cancer is anything less than an extraordinary cause worthy of our highest regard.

The Caprock Academy Board of Directors held a special meeting tonight to discuss a waiver to the dress code policy per the parents’ request. The Caprock Academy Board of Directors voted to approve the waiver to the dress code policy.

Although Caprock needs to tweak its policies, nothing the school did justifies the seething rage directed at the school by swarms of social media personalities. Some people literally called the school to threaten its teachers and the teachers’ children. Such behavior is reprehensible. Shame on the people conducting themselves in such a way, and shame on the “journalists” who are irresponsibly fanning the flames of this witch hunt.

To summarize, Caprock acted within the constraints of its written policies to expeditiously grant an exception to the girl who shaved her head for a good cause. This incident illustrates the need for Caprock to tweak its policies so that, in religious or medical cases, a waiver is not required. That is obvious.

Unlike almost all of the critics of Caprock, I actually know something about the school. Someone I know teaches there, and my nephew goes there. I have been to his basketball games at the school. I have seen his hand-written letters and heard his reviews of his classroom exercises that assure me he is getting a good-quality education.

Caprock certainly deserves criticism over its ill-thought-out rules, and it should fix its rules as quickly as possible. Caprock also deserves praise for acting quickly to grant an exception to its big-hearted student and for offering an exceptional-quality education to its students. As always, a sense of context goes a long way.

5:22 pm Update: As the Denver Post notes, the girl with cancer at the base of this story, Delaney Clements, is receiving care at Children’s Hospital. That facility has treated a number of children whom I personally know, and it is excellent. Please donate now.

  • LeadFooty

    http://www.greatschools.org/colorado/grand-junction/2576-Caprock-Academy/?tab=reviews

    Caprock Charter School failure to ANTICIPATE the many common causes for baldness prior to instituting their policy on shaved heads is a testament to the school’s ignorance and prejudice. This school deserves no praise.

  • ariarmstrong

    Ignorance, yes. Prejudice? That’s a pretty big word to be throwing around with exactly zero evidence to support the claim. Obviously the school expressed support for the student in question, and the student’s mother recognized that support. Or could you not be bothered to read my article prior to posting a comment about it?

  • LeadFooty

    The school did NOT express support for the student in question. No sir. They removed her from school. Took her up in front of the class. Berated her for violating dress code and then called her mother at home. Next the Caprock School Board actually had a meeting to decide if her hairless-ness was legit and the vote was 3 to 1.The girl and her family had to stand before the board to be judged!
    The only witch hunt that happened here was the one plied against this student by her own school.

  • ariarmstrong

    LeadFooty, your statement that “the school did not express support for the student in question” is simply a lie. You may read the school’s statement of support for the student—as well as the mother’s statement of support for the school—in the body of my article. You might also find in my article the sections where I discuss the problems with the school’s rules and point out that no waiver should be required in such cases. The school should change its rules, as I’ve discussed. I will disallow subsequent comments in this thread that misrepresent the truth. Thanks, -Ari

  • LeadFooty

    Yes, I read the school’s statement. Unfortunately that statement differs from the actual actions they took against one of their own students.
    Thanks for whitewashing any real discussion about the “rules” at Caprock Charter Academy. The fundamental problem here isn’t a slow bureaucracy; it is the school’s lack of wordiness and compassion. If Caprock Charter Academy forfeited the practice of cherry-picking only the most trouble-free conformist students, maybe then the school’s authority would know first hand how common it is for kids to experience hair loss due to cancer or lupus or whatever. Maybe they would know how common it is for entire classrooms to cut/shave their hair (teacher too!) for donation to Locks for Love. This out-of-date Dead Poet’s Society approach to classroom learning is sad. In a few years your nephew will likely tell you this himself.

  • LeadFooty

    Erasing my comments won’t make the truth go away Ari.

  • LeadFooty

    Erasing my comment shows what you are made of.

  • Denise

    The coverage that I encountered focused on five things that are hard to dispute:

    1.) Caprock Academy made an exception for this 3th grader, but they did so after suspending her from school on Monday.

    2.) The girl’s parents were shocked that their daughter was sent home for baldness.

    3.) Ms. Breman’s after the fact statement of “support” fails to mention the school’s decision to suspend the student for having a bald head and makes clear that the special meeting to discuss a dress code waiver was held “per the parents’ request.”

    4.) Nationwide there is overwhelming public support that this young girl should have (at the very least) remained in class while the school board ruminated.

    5.) There is plenty of indirect evidence (Bald-Is-Beautiful websites, Facebook petitions, nonstop telephone calls to Caprock Academy from cancer survivors and parents) suggesting that the school relented only in response to public concern.

    Sorry, I don’t see where the media got it wrong and I can’t figure where USA TODAY and NY Daily News under-quoted school authorities to the detriment of the story.

    Side note: Neuroblastoma is a crazy
    crazy childhood cancer. The girl’s friend is in the 40% survival rate bracket. I
    feel certain that this head-shaving thing was more than a kind gesture; it is
    probably a very helpful way for this 3rd grader to process her feelings of helplessness and
    injustice in watching a good friend going through a 7th (!) round of
    chemotherapy. I hope everybody pulls through.

  • ariarmstrong

    Denise,

    You write as though I somehow approved of the Caprock rules and policies in question; I don’t know how I could state more explicitly that I disapprove of them. As I’ve stated, I don’t think such matters should even go to the board; there ought to be an automatic “religious, medical, or humanitarian” exception to the dress code. The school was foolish to send the girl home. Do you somehow believe there is disagreement on this point?

    I stated very clearly what the news reports in question got wrong: they quoted only part of a Caprock statement in question and omitted an essential detail (specifically, that Caprock was already pursuing an exemption hearing).

    You can claim there is “plenty of indirect evidence” that Caprock “relented only in response to public concern,” but your claim does not constitute proof, and it seems to contradict public statements both by the school and by the mother of the student in question. The claims you mention are almost all made by people who do not live in Grand Junction, who have never set foot in Caprock, and who do not personally know a single person at Caprock. So I don’t see how their claims about Caprock might constitute reliable evidence. Obviously, if you wish to offer real evidence, rather than hearsay, I’d love to hear it.

    Finally, school policy aside, obviously everyone hopes the very best for the girl with cancer. Cancer has killed two of my friends in recent years, and it currently afflicts several friends and relatives. It’s a horrible, horrible disease, and no doubt everyone hopes medical research find a cure or at least much better treatment options in the near future.

    Thanks, -Ari

  • Denise

    You do write with positive thumbs up gusto in on behalf of Caprock school’s quick response while failing to mention that the student in question was actually suspended in the interim. So yes I was responding to that.

    Also, I did not claim direct evidence and absolute suspicion of the school’s intent. I said there was indirect evidence and the media as far as I could tell, reported it as such. The school did not return phone calls to journalists seeking confirmation, so that indirect evidence is where it stands.

    As for the timeline, Kamryn’s mother emailed the school on Sunday explaining why her daughter’s head was shaved, but administrators said they couldn’t make dress code exceptions. On Monday morning Kamryn’s mother tried again but the school went ahead with the suspension without the possibility of a dress code waiver. By 3pm the local press and buzz on Facebook/Twitter had gotten a hold of this story. It was then and only then that Caprock’s administrative board issued their statement of support and agreed to consider a waiver via a special meeting the next day. People are free to connect the dots on this.

    In closing I think it is important to mention that the one member who voted against allowing Kamryn to go to school with a bald head was mostly bald himself.

  • ariarmstrong

    Denise, I am disallowing additional comments based on speculation, rumor, and hearsay. When and if you obtain some actual evidence, please let me know. Until then, there is nothing further to discuss here. Thanks, -Ari

  • Denise

    Ari,
    The comments I wrote are based on information I gathered from Emily’s coverage in the Daily Sentinel that I verified through secondary news sources. I’m sorry you felt the need to delete them.

  • ariarmstrong

    Denise,

    I have written enough about the media to know that, very often, misreporting by an initial reporter is picked up by secondary reporters, often with even more errors. Although I cite the Sentinel as publishing “basically responsible” articles about the event, that was in comparison to the obviously biased articles cited above. Suffice it to say, for now, that I have heard reliable accounts to the effect that Emily Shockley is wrong in her claim (more an innuendo) that Caprock offered the waiver only because the story generated media coverage. I am not sure which account to believe. But I will point out that Shockley does not actually cite a source for her claim, so, until and unless I check it out personally, via first-hand witlessness, or read another reliable and substantiated report on the matter, and am able to confirm the claim in question, I will regard it as suspect. You speculating about other reporters’ speculations based on Shockley’s speculations does not count as evidence. (Another detail: Although the headline of the Sentinel’s story uses the word “suspended,” Shockley herself does not use the term—usually headline writers are not the authors of the stories—and I am not convinced it is apt.)

    But please observe how this works. I am going to cite and link to Shockley’s article; here it is:

    http://www.gjsentinel.com/news/articles/girl-suspended-in-headshaving-act-of-support

    If you wish to cite and link to particular articles, then I can read those particular articles and evaluate which claims are well-founded and which are not.

    None of this changes the reliable public statements made by the school and by the mother of the student in question.

    Frankly, to run down each one of these details with confidence, I’d have to conduct a number of interviews with the principle players. And, given no one is paying me to do that, and given hardly anyone would actually bother to read about such details anyway, I don’t think I can justify the expense of time. After all, to a large percentage of Caprock’s critics, this is not about facts; it is about finding a demon to hate.

    Thanks, -Ari

  • ariarmstrong

    I should add that the account of the mother of the student in question seems to flatly contradict Shockley’s claims (and all derivative claims). Again, the mother publicly stated, “At no point during this ordeal was Kamryn’s school not supportive of her decision, nor show compassion…they just made a decision to enforce their dress code, which we were asking to be changed. They responded to all of our requests, and have treated us with nothing but respect the whole time.” Absent compelling evidence that her statement is false, we should believe her. -Ari

  • ariarmstrong

    Unless someone has important and reliable new information to report about this story, comments about it are now closed. Thanks, -Ari

  • Denise

    It began here with a request for support. Just an FYI

  • ariarmstrong

    That is interesting and relevant. But I would point out the obvious: The story she told Sunday does not fully square with the story she told later. Somewhere along the line one or more parties suffered a miscommunication. So her daughter cut her hair on Friday? (9News reports it was over the weekend; I don’t know.) The school was not in session over the weekend, so who in particular did the mother contact, and what exactly was the nature of that conversation? Obviously initially the mother believed and claimed that the school forbade her daughter to attend school until she grew her hair out. Whether the person she talked to understood the nature of the case in question or even had the authority to make such a decision, I have no idea. All I know with confidence is that at least by Monday the school’s administrators had decided to hold a hearing to grant an exception. Anyway, none of this changes the fundamentals of the story. Here is the 9News report mentioned: http://www.9news.com/story/news/local/2014/03/25/school-votes-to-allow-girl-with-shaved-head-back-in/6892989/ Thanks, -Ari

  • mtnrunner2

    “There is a lesson here for consumers of media: Do not assume that the story told by newspaper is the complete (or even an accurate) story” > Yep.

    Thanks Ari. I’m a bit embarrassed that I jumped on the bandwagon too soon especially since I also have relatives apparently privy to what was going on : Live, learn and improve.

    I do think that it can be a good thing if social media brings something to the public’s attention if it’s done in a responsible way. It may induce positive change sooner rather than later, and that may have happened here.

    I still don’t understand why the mother was so quick to go public (i.e. going on TV in Denver, which is nearly 4 hours away) without engaging the school, to try to work through channels to get things changed.

  • Denise

    … because her daughter was denied entry into school, which was wrong. Good Mothers take immediate action.