A school in the UK punished innocent teen for returning to classes with 'lockdown hair'
via Google, The Mirror / Twitter, and Unsplash

We're over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and it's fair to cut each other a little slack over our appearances. Some of us have put on a few pounds while stuck in isolation. Others have got a little too used to bumming it around the house in sweats and T-shirts.

Most of us have all suffered from months of bad hair because it's been tough to get a haircut.

Jacob Lee-Stokes, 15, a student at the Humberston Academy in Grimsby, England was excited to return to school after months of distance learning, but on the first day back got in trouble for violating the school's dress code.


During lockdown, he experimented with his natural ginger-colored hair by dying it blue and pink. Then, he attempted to even out the color by dying it blonde. This resulted in a two-tone look that wouldn't fly at Humberston. But he couldn't have it fixed by a hairstylist because they were closed due to the pandemic.

All his mother owned was a pair of dog clippers.

So on the first day back, Jacob was immediately put in isolation where students are forced to work alone the entire day. It's the UK version of being sent to the principal's office.

"After all the weeks of home learning and he goes off to school for 8:20 am and then I get a call at 9:15 am on the first day to say he is in isolation for the whole day, is outrageous," his mother, Gemma Leaning, told Grimsby Live.

"I understand the school policy and would normally have taken him to the hairdressers but no one has that option during lockdown," she added.

The mother had few options when for fixing her son's hair and assumed the school would have some sympathy for him on the first day back. However, the school suggested that she "shave it off."

"I don't know what they expect parents to do," the mother said. "They would not say 'shave your hair' to a girl. Who is to decide what looks nice and what doesn't?"

After all, according to Gemma, her son is a model student.

Humberston Academyvia Google

"It is not as if he is a naughty pupil. He is part of the school's Shine Project and is looking at which university he wants to study at. He did all his work in lockdown, set up a mini-enterprise, and is predicted to have good grades."

The mother said she believes the school's response was "petty." Her son agrees.

"I would like to see schools focus more on how well kids are doing in themselves rather than how they look and how the school looks," Jacob said. "All schools need to focus on kids' mental health and not just say they are looking after students' mental health. I just want to get back into lessons."

Spending the first day back in isolation was so stressful he took the next day off from school.

In a statement, the school said that it's "empathetic," but stands by its decision. "We also have clear expectations of appropriate hairstyles, including hair dye," the statement said, "parents and students have known for some time now that the first day back at school would be March 8, and we expect families to take appropriate steps meeting our existing policies for a smooth return back to school."

Schools have rules and parents and students should respect them. But the academy should have realized that after a long, stressful time off that some students may not be 100% ready to return to school. It would have been appropriate for them to issue a warning and ask that his hair be fixed when hairdressers reopen. Or give his mother a few days to order a shaver off Amazon.







Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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