Elementary principal in McMinnville insists military haircut is 'mohawk,' forces 2nd haircut on child

A seven-year-old Warren County, Tenn., boy was sent home from school earlier this month and told not to return until he had a new haircut. The boy had gotten a "high and tight" military haircut to honor his stepbrother, an active member of the U.S. Army. The principal of Bobby Ray Memorial Elementary School said it was a mohawk, and demanded it be shaved. The boy's mother complied, but she's very unhappy and reaching out to media.

Seven-year-old Adam Stinnett went to school March 9 with a spiffy new "high and tight" haircut in honor of his stepbrother, an active member of the U.S. Army.

On March 10, Adam was sent home with a letter from the administration of Bobby Ray Memorial Elementary School in McMinnville, Tenn., saying he wouldn't be allowed to return to school until his hairstyle was changed. The letter said the haircut too closely resembled a "mohawk," which is against school policy.

Adam's mother, Amy Stinnett, said her son was devastated.

"It upset him," Stinnett said. "He looks up to his stepbrother, and he wanted to physically show him that he supports him. He thought the haircut was the best way to do that."

Bobby Ray Memorial Elementary's policy on haircuts, according to Stinnett and the back of Adam's school-issued folder, says, "No mohawks, no haircuts that are distracting."

Stinnett said she tried to explain that her son's haircut was in the military style, and a tribute, but the school's principal, Monti Hillis, told her in an email that "we are not a military school and the boy's haircut is against the rules."

Repeated efforts to contact Hillis were unsuccessful. In a statement released Wednesday, the Warren County Board of Education said it couldn't comment on the controversy.

"Due to the confidential nature of this incident, which addresses a specific student and on advice of counsel, we cannot comment on the specifics of this incident and the investigation we have conducted internally," the statement said.

The statement also said the Warren County School Board Policy "doesn't address or prohibit any hairstyle" but "does allow each individual school to make guidelines appropriate for their particular school." It emphasized the district's support of all branches of the military, its pride that Bobby Ray Elementary is named after "a true American hero," and that "Neither Bobby Ray Memorial Elementary nor any school in Warren County School District prohibits military haircuts."

Adding irony to the situation is the fact that Adam's school is named for a McMinnville soldier who was killed in Vietnam. And the school's gymnasium, according to Stinnett, is named after another soldier, a classmate of hers who died in Afghanistan.

Hillis stuck to her guns.

"[Principal Hillis] said it was a distraction, and threatened to have him kicked out of school unless we shaved it off," Stinnett said. "Like a bald head isn't a distraction?"

Stinnett complied, but not before taking a photo and sharing her son's story with the Southern Standard newspaper in McMinnville. The story was picked up by news outlets across the state, and Stinnett and Adam appeared nationally on "Fox and Friends" on Friday. Stinnett said Adam is loving the attention.

"Thursday night he said, 'Momma, after tomorrow I'm going to be famous,'" Stinnett said.

Stinnett said she is considering legal action against the school. She gave Adam another high-and-tight on Thursday, and he attended school Friday without a word from the administration.

Contact Will Healey at whealey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.