School officials on Fort Campbell have done an about-face on a ban against allowing students to wear patriotic shirts on casual day after one student's stand against the policy gained national media attention.
CeJai Taylor, a 12-year-old student at Fort Campbell's Mahaffey Middle School, asked school administrators if they would be willing to change their once-a-month casual day policy to allow students to wear patriotic T-shirts. She handed out flyers to help the staff learn about "Red Fridays," a nationwide movement that encourages civilians to wear red as a sign of troop support.
The rules at Campbell's middle schools allowed students to only wear jeans monthly paired with a T-shirt purchased from the school, or dress-code collared shirts. The High School on Fort Campbell has long permitted patriotic shirts to be worn on the casual days.
But officials refused to change the rule to allow CeJai and others -- all military kids -- to visibly support their deployed parents and friends by wearing a "Red Friday" or other patriotic shirt once a month. Instead, they told CeJai's mom, Cassandra Taylor, they have "designated days" to support the military.
"I said 'Are you kidding me? All she wants to do is support her dad and wear the shirt that support the troops,'" Taylor said.
So they decided to take a stand.
"That's ridiculous that I couldn't wear a red shirt to support the troops at a military school," CeJai said. "I was sick and tired and I finally stood-up for what I believed in."
With the support of her mom CeJai decided to wear the shirt on the most recent casual day, April 19, anyway. And when school officials ordered her to change her shirt, her mom picked her up and brought her home instead. Later that day CeJai called Fox News and told them her story.
That interview aired April 23. The story has since gone viral.
"I had people emailing me from different organizations saying that they have mass overloaded emails to the school to the point where the school emails are no longer working, calling the school, faxing the school -- it's been crazy," Taylor said.
As a result school officials made an abrupt change to their policy and plan to send a letter home with students April 25 explaining the change.
"They relooked at the school dress code and students will be allowed to wear patriotic T-shirts on dress down days," Cindy Gibson, a DoDEA spokeswoman said April 24.
The school is also increasing casual day from once a month to every Friday.
Taylor said Gary Gerstner, assistant superintendent for DoDEA's Kentucky District, called her April 24 and apologized.
"It was a tough conversation," Taylor said. "I know that they had to eat crow because I know that it does not make them look good."
Taylor said they knew they would receive flack over the shirt and that CeJai would be ordered to change. But instead of directing CeJai to follow the rules, Taylor wanted her to stand behind the things that are most important to her.
"She loves her daddy -- there's nothing more beautiful than a child that loves God, loves her country and her daddy. And I stand by that -- if it wasn't for that I wouldn't have pushed it," Taylor said.
CeJai said her father, who deployed early this Spring, is very proud of her.
"(My dad) is going to say that he's very proud of me and can't wait to see me," CeJai said.
Taylor said she hopes the incident has taught CeJai to take a stand even in the face of opposition.
"I want her to know that sometimes these things are worth fighting for," Taylor said. "Isn't that what being a parent is all about? You teach her to stand her ground and that sometimes it's OK to be by herself."