16-year-old Tyler Powers, who recently battled cancer twice, was cited for violating the school’s dress code by wearing a Relay for Life "survivor" T-shirt.
The Ridgewood High School student told TODAY that a teacher pulled him out of class to tell him that the American Cancer Society emblem on his t-shirt was a violation of the dress code, which stipulates that logos cannot be larger than the size of a quarter.
"I was doing my work; I was causing no disruption whatsoever," he said.
He explained that he was given an ultimatum – to call his parents to bring him a change of clothes or to change into a shirt the school provided. He was told that he would spend the day in ISS (in-school suspension) otherwise.
He chose to wear a blue Ridgewood High School T-shirt.
His story has gone viral, with some students and parents expressing outrage that Powers was targeted for his shirt, especially given his history.
One outraged student wrote an open letter to the school's principal to protest the dress code, which was introduced in August when the school year began.
"It's disturbing," Tim Powers, Powers’ dad, told TODAY. "There's nothing about the shirt that was demeaning or hateful. It's a positive message."
He added that his son is the junior class president and that he has never been in trouble before.
Powers, who also attends classes at a nearby college, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 5 years old and was cured at age 7. He relapsed and was cured again when he was 10.
"We've been through all of this, we've lived this," Tim stated. "When kids are proud of accomplishments, they're a positive influence on other children. There are kids who look up to him. When something like this happens, it's almost like a slap in the face."
The school district maintained that the teacher was simply following the rules.
In an email to TODAY, Linda Cobbe, spokesperson for Pasco County Schools, said: "She never noticed what was on his shirt and he never mentioned anything about being a cancer survivor. If he had said something, she would have listened empathetically and explained to him how the logo size limit applies to all shirts and that they can't discriminate by allowing one student to wear a special shirt."
The dress code is part of the district’s pilot program that seeks to improve academic and discipline problems at the school, including attendance rates, poor test scores, and gang activity.
Cobbe added: "The bottom line is that the school needed to take steps to get students engaged in their learning and focused on academic improvement. Their goal is to prepare students for college, career and life, and part of that is learning that they will have to conform to dress codes established in every type of business and in every branch of the military. They looked at what schools with similar situations in nearby districts had done and found positive results in several that implemented modified dress codes."