A little girl, whose life-limiting condition means she is not expected to live past 15, had “her little heart broken” when a teacher ordered her to remove a wig.
Ashanti Elliot Smith suffers from alopecia, a symptom of the rare ageing disease Hutchinson Gilford Progeria that makes the little 11 year-old look as though she is 80.
Ashanti wanted hair like the other girls at her school, Oakmeeds Community College in Burgess Hill, West Sussex and was overjoyed when a friend of her mother gave her a wig; Ashanti’s mother, Phoebe Smith, said her daughter “fell in love” with the wig.
When Ashanti’s mother dropped her at school on Thursday, several teachers admired Ashanti’s new look, saying she looked “glamorous” and ” beautiful.”
However, just moments later, Ashanti was devastated when another teacher told her to remove the wig because it might encourage other pupils to dye their hair.
29 year-old Phoebe Smith, Ashanti’s mother, said: “She was devastated when they told her to take it off. Her little heart was broken – it is disgusting. The wig is bright but she should have the right to wear whatever colour hair she wants. She loved the wig because it is big and pink, pink is her favourite colour, and she was obsessed with the wig. When I took her into school three teachers by the office said she looked glamorous and beautiful and said how lovely her wig was.
“But as soon as I turned my back they told her to remove it. It was so embarrassing for her. It was the first time she wore the wig into school and she has not been back in since last Thursday. If she goes back next Monday, she definitely will be going back wearing the wig. They are not going to get my child to take her wig off. If it makes her feel beautiful then they should let her wear it. She knows she looks different. She does not have the choice of wearing make up or wearing bows in her hair, so wearing a wig should be allowed. She looks a lot different to other children. We get a lot of bad comments about Ashanti and this knocked her right back.”
Colin Taylor, the Headteacher of Oakmeeds, the school Ashanti started in September, said: “Ashanti attended school in a large purple wig which was the first time she had appeared in school wearing a wig or any form of head wear. Her Learning Mentor, who meets her every morning and supports her throughout the day along with a Learning Support Assistant, spoke to the Head of Year about it.
“It was agreed by the Director of Inclusion and Head of Year that Ashanti would wear the wig home but not in lessons because it was not cold in the school and she had never wanted to wear one before. We tried to discuss this with Ashanti’s mother on Thursday but we were not able to make contact with her.
“We have worked closely with Ashanti’s mother to ensure her wishes that her daughter is treated like all other pupils are met. Ashanti is a pleasure to have in the school and we believe we have done everything we can to meet both her needs and her mother’s requirements during the first half term. Ashanti has settled well at Oakmeeds.
“At no time to our knowledge did she request special consideration about head wear but we would fully understand it if Ashanti was to need a hat or indeed a wig when the weather gets cold – even indoors. In the past other children have worn wigs following serious illness, but ones that were of a natural look – not large brightly coloured ones.”