Kate Pepper beat brain cancer once. Then she started feeling ill just months before starting her senior year in high school.
As KXAS News reports, the 17-year-old from McKinney, Texas was first diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, a brain tumor, in 2014. She beat the cancer, but had to face a new diagnosis just two months ago. She told KXAS that, “I was feeling bad, but I wasn’t expecting it to be brain cancer again.”
Going through treatment meant that Kate began to lose her hair. In a letter on her mother’s Facebook page, Kate wrote that losing her hair meant losing a part of herself:
I know hair isn’t the most important thing in the world but, it brings me to a sad and hard realization I’m truly going through cancer.
Just weeks before the start of school, Kate had lost enough hair that she decided to have her long braids shaved off. She and her mother, Tyliece, went shopping for a wig. Kate wrote:
I honestly thought that none of them looked good on me, and I would just look ugly until my hair grew back.
Then she found a two-tone turquoise and black wig that made her feel good. She wore the wig to school and received compliments about how good it looked on her. She wrote:
This wig makes me feel normal, confident and otherwise pretty during a time in my life where I have so many things I can’t control.
But her joy in her wig would be short-lived. The school informed Kate that the wig violated the McKinney ISD dress code.
According to the Dallas Morning News, the school district dress code specifies that:
Non-natural colored hair that is considered to be disruptive (green, blue, purple, orange, etc.) is not permitted.
Devastated, Kate wrote her plea to the school, asking that they make an exception in her case. As she wrote on Facebook:
I know there are rules and there are always exceptions, I’m asking for the sake of my sanity please allow this to be one. I’m empowered by wearing this wig although it’s subtle in color it gives me an abundance of strength and power to grieve the loss of my hair, and gives me the fortitude I need to fight this battle I’m facing with cancer.
She was joined by her mother, who wrote a separate request to the school district, asking that Kate be permitted to wear the blue wig. However, the district replied that they were “not able to grant the ability to wear a wig with turquoise in it.”
A member of the school staff donated $65 so that Kate could buy a new wig, but the teen wanted to continue wearing the wig she loved. Tyliece told KXAS:
“It’s really not about the money, It’s about the principle of you letting her wear the wig. She’s fighting for her life. Why do we have to fight for this?”
As Kate’s story spread, even Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick weighed in. Patrick wrote on Facebook that he would be sending a formal request to McKinney ISD asking them to make an exception for Kate:
I am asking McKinney ISD to create an exception to their dress code and allow Kate Pepper to wear her beautiful wig. I am a strong supporter of clear rules for school discipline for Texas students, but there are certain extraordinary circumstances that should create an exception to any rule and this is one of those times.
Though the school district initially stated that they wanted to remain consistent in applying the dress code to all students, on Sunday they reversed their decision. In a statement to CBS DFW, the school district announced they had already contacted Kate’s family to let her know she could wear her wig:
McKinney ISD made a decision to grant an exception to its dress code policy and will allow the student to wear a colored wig.
Kate told CBS DFW she was happy the district changed its mind adding, “I feel a relief, and I am honestly hoping that if anyone else is going through my circumstances that this will help them along the way as well.”