Whitefield Academy defends decision to expel student after picture of rainbow sweater, birthday cake

Kayla Kenney’s mother says they were celebrating 15th birthday
School leaders said Kayla Kenney's rainbow shirt and colorful cake demonstrated a cultural acceptance contrary to the private school's beliefs.
Updated: Jan. 16, 2020 at 11:36 AM EST
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The private school claims the picture is the latest in two years’ worth of “lifestyle...
The private school claims the picture is the latest in two years’ worth of “lifestyle violations”.(WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Whitefield Academy is defending its decision to expel freshman student Kayla Kenney after a photo of the teen surfaced on social media showing her wearing a rainbow sweater with a colorful birthday cake.

Since WAVE 3 News first reported the story Monday, the story has received national attention and the school has been inundated with negative feedback online.

As WAVE 3 News reported in the original story, Kenney did commit other “lifestyle violations” at school. Her mother, Kimberly Alford, said Kenney previously got in trouble for using a vape.

Alford said she believes the school is jumping to conclusions, and said her 15-year-old daughter wasn’t trying to make a statement about gay rights.

“It was a happy moment,” Alford said. “We were celebrating her 15th birthday. The day God gave me her. Not supporting any sexuality or anything like that.”

In an e-mail from Head of School Dr. Bruce Jacobson, the school leader stated that the social media post was the final straw for the freshman.

In addition to the expulsion letter, Alford provided WAVE 3 News with the following e-mail from Dr. Jacobson:

To the Parents of Kayla Kenney,

We are sorry to inform you that due to a continued breach of our school policies and expectations, Kayla is being dismissed from Whitefield Academy, effective today, January 6, 2020. Please see the attached letter which serves as the official notice.

The WA Administration has been made aware of a recent picture, posted on social media, which demonstrates a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs (see the attached picture). Per our in-person meeting on October 17, 2019, we made it clear that any further promotion, celebration, or any other actions and attitudes that are counter to Whitefield’s philosophy would not be tolerated. As a result, we regret to inform you that Kayla is being dismissed from the school, effective immediately.

Please contact the High School Secretary Lori Fryling with any questions regarding Kayla’s records and transcripts.

Thank you,

B. A. Jacobson, Ed.D, Ed.S

Head of School

Whitefield Academy

Galatians 2:20

WAVE 3 News made numerous requests to Whitefield officials to go on camera and tell their side of the story. They have not responded to those requests or offered answers to any of WAVE 3 News’ follow-up questions.

After the original story aired Monday, a spokesperson for Whitefield responded with this statement:

Thank you for reaching out to Whitefield Academy. Please see below for a statement regarding your recent media story:

“Inaccurate media reports are circling stating that the student in question was expelled from our school solely for a social media post. In fact, she has unfortunately violated our student code of conduct numerous times over the past two years. 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.

“Whitefield Academy is a Christian-based school with a 43-year history of educating students in a learning environment informed by our shared Christian values. All parents who enroll their children in our private school know up front that we ask the students to adhere to a lifestyle informed by our Christian beliefs. There are numerous school options in our community for students who do not wish to attend a Christian-based school, and we wish our former student all the best as she finds a learning environment that is right for her.

“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 pare 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.”

Kenney is now attending a public school.

“I just hope that this does not change people’s opinion of who god is. I don’t want my daughter to be under such scrutiny or judgement,” said Alford.

Since Kenney’s story aired, Alford said the family has received an outpouring of support. Several other private schools have offered to waive her tuition. Ellen Jovin, of the Grammar Table, travels the country to teach writing. She reached out to offer free tutoring remotely.

“It made me feel sad for Kayla that she was not experiencing that level of inclusion that I’ve felt everywhere I’ve gone all of the country, and so I just wanted to make sure she knew that people have her back,” Jovin said.

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