A 7-year-old's high and tight haircut meant to honor his soldier-stepbrother earned him the threat of suspension from an elementary school named for a Medal of Honor recipient, and the fallout from the incident has led a Tennessee school district to increase security measures.
Adam Stinnett went to Bobby Ray Memorial Elementary School in McMinnville, about a 90-minute drive southeast from Nashville, on March 9 sporting the new hairdo. His mother, Amy Stinnett, said he'd requested the high and tight to be more like Spc. Justin Bloodworth, his active-duty stepbrother.
Adam was written up by the principal, who thought the haircut was against school policy banning "mohawk haircuts or other extreme cuts."
Amy Stinnett disagreed. Adam went back Tuesday with the same haircut.
After his mother received an email from the principal and stopped by for a face-to-face chat, it was made clear that Adam's hairstyle would have to change before he returned to school.
With so much hair already gone, his mother had few options.
"I did shave his head," Stinnett said Thursday. "With no hair, he looks sick all the time."
The incident upset Adam, who wants to follow Bloodworth's path into military service, his mother said.
"They crushed my son's dreams," she said of the school officials. "They made him feel upset. They broke his heart. He didn't deserve that."
Stinnett contacted the local newspaper. A Sunday article in the Southern Standard (subscription required) gained traction on Facebook, as did a later piece from a local Fox TV affiliate. Stinnett said she's been contacted by regional and national news outlets looking to spread the story.
Some of those outlets have contacted the Warren County Board of Education, which put out a news release Wednesday in response to the Southern Standard article saying, in part, that "[n]either Bobby Ray Memorial Elementary, nor any school in Warren County School District, prohibits military haircuts."
Decisions on appropriate haircuts are made on a school-by-school basis, the statement says, adding that district officials would not discuss specifics in Adam's case.
That hasn't stopped people from asking, nor has it kept them from sharing their thoughts on the matter via social media.
The school district has taken down its Facebook page after a deluge of comments, said Bobby Cox, the district's director of schools. He said the messages were "not necessarily threatening" but added to an incident that had caused the district "great stress."
He also said more security had been added to the elementary school.
"It's been portrayed that we are anti-military, anti-patriot, and we are not," Cox told Army Times. "I'm just sorry that's been the way it's been portrayed."
Cox said the haircut policy is under review and that he believes a more complete definition of what styles are acceptable will help eliminate future problems.
The district's statement included an apology for the "distraction this may have caused in the learning environment of our school and community," but Adam's mother said the school should do more.
"All I really want is for the school and the school district to do a public apology: Not just for my son, but for the fallen war heroes ... and the veterans, and the active military personnel that are in the Army now," Stinnett said. "Considering the military haircut as a distraction is basically saying that our Army is a distraction."
Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class David Robert "Bobby" Ray earned the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions with a Marine Corps unit during a 1969 battle near An Hoa, Vietnam. Ray suffered severe wounds while treating members of his unit but continued administering aid, according to his award citation, at one point killing an enemy attacker and wounding another when they approached as he bandaged a wounded Marine. His final act came when he threw himself onto the body of a patient to save him from a nearby grenade blast.
The school's gymnasium bears the name of Spc. Jeremy L. Brown, who died in Afghanistan in 2010 when his unit was attacked by small-arms fire.
"We're a small community, very close-knit," Cox said. "Very proud of our school. Very proud of the name of our school."