The mother of a Kentucky teenager says her daughter was expelled from her Christian school for celebrating “attitudes that are counter to [its] philosophy” after she happily posed in a rainbow sweater with a rainbow cake while celebrating her birthday.
Kayla Kenney, 15, was expelled from Whitefield Academy in Louisville earlier this month after the school caught wind of the photo, which had been posted to Facebook, her mother Kimberly Alford told NBC affiliate WAVE.
“She was happy, she looked beautiful. You know, of course, as a mom, I took her picture blowing out her candles and I posted that on my Facebook page,” Alford said of the photo, which was snapped in December.
Not long after, however, Alford said she received a letter from the head of school, Dr. Bruce Jacobson, who said Kayla was getting the boot “due to a post on social media,” the Louisville Courier Journal reported.
The letter reportedly said that the photo “demonstrates a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs,” and that Kayla had exhibited two years of “lifestyle violations.”
A representative for Whitefield tells PEOPLE in a statement that reports claiming Kayla’s expulsion was based solely on the photo were “inaccurate,” and that she had violated the student code of conduct “numerous times” over the last two years.
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“In the fall, we met with the student to give her a final chance to begin to adhere to our code of conduct. Unfortunately, she did not live up to the agreement, and therefore, has been expelled,” the statement read.
The meeting referred to in the statement occurred in October after Kayla was found with Juul pods in her backpack, Alford told the Journal.
The freshman was allegedly put on probation after the meeting, though her mother said that since then, there “have been no disciplinary issues.”
The Whitefield Academy handbook states that the school reserves the right to “discontinue enrollment of a student” if the “home environment is not in harmony with the school’s doctrinal belief in the centrality of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture and Biblical lifestyle.” Examples listed include “sexual immorality” and “homosexual orientation.”
The school added, “Whitefield Academy is accredited by ACSI/AdvancEd and a member of the Non Public School Commission of Kentucky, and therefore we meet all Kentucky regulations and laws. Our code of conduct is on par with other private Christian schools in our area. It is unfortunate that one of the student’s parents chose to post internal family matters on social media, and we hope our former student is not adversely affected by what her parents chose to make public about her situation.”
Though the rainbow flag has long been a symbol of LGBTQ pride, Alford told WAVE that Kayla’s rainbow outfit and birthday cake were completely unrelated, and that she’d simply asked the bakery for a dessert with “assorted colors.”
Still, when Alford appealed her daughter’s expulsion, she said Jacobson told her that the cake and sweater “just kind of represents gay pride,” and that she “should have refused the cake,” according to the Journal.
“I just feel like it’s a label [school officials] have put on her. Just because I’m wearing a rainbow doesn’t mean I’m gay,” Alford told the Journal. “She did nothing wrong.”
Kayla has reportedly enrolled in public school, and her expulsion will be classified as “voluntary withdrawal” so that it does not appear on her record.
“She’s adjusting really well, but she also seems stressed and overwhelmed at times. I felt like [Whitefield Academy] had a positive impact on her, but I just feel like those religious beliefs they are imposing now are very judgmental,” Alford told the Journal. “That’s not what I wanted for her.”