St. X wouldn't let senior wear Marine shirt on "college day"

Published: May. 17, 2012 at 3:24 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2013 at 9:56 PM EDT
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The USMC T-shirt Zack Mitchell wore to school on College T-Shirt Day.
The USMC T-shirt Zack Mitchell wore to school on College T-Shirt Day.
Zack Mitchell
Zack Mitchell

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - College versus a commitment to the military. A high school senior said his decision to wear a Marine Corps T-shirt to "college T-shirt day" left him in hot water. So the student contacted the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter Department for help. And Troubleshooter Eric Flack's investigation led to policy changes at St. Xavier High School.

Zachery Mitchell has wanted to serve his country since he was in kindergarten.

"I drew an Army guy and said I wanted to be a Marine," Zack remembers.

On June 11, Zack, 19, will head to boot camp just weeks after he graduates from St. Xavier High School, a college prep school in Louisville. Zack was accepted to the Citadel, but decided to forgo college and head straight to the Marines because it's what he's always wanted to do.

When St. X held its college day, a day where graduating seniors get a break from the buttoned down dress code to wear a T-shirt from their future college, Zack and his mom rushed out to buy a Marines T-shirt for Zack to wear.

"I was extremely proud to show my fellow classmates I was going to join the service and make my country proud," said Zack.

Instead of pride Zack said he felt disgraced when the school disciplinarian told him the day was for college T-shirts only and his Marines shirt didn't qualify.

"I was like I don't understand because I'm wearing my Marine Corps T-shirt because that is what I am doing after high school. I know it's not college, but it's what I'm doing," Zack said he told the school disciplinarian. "And he says, 'you need to listen to me right now and take that off.'"

Zack said the disciplinarian told him to go to the office change into a shirt and tie out of the lost and found.

"In the lost and found I found a shirt three sizes smaller than the shirt I actually wear and a coffee stained tie," said Zack. "I went into homeroom completely humiliated and dejected. Then my homeroom teacher told me to go into the bathroom and freshen up because he could tell I was upset about what just happened."

Zack wasn't the only one in tears. His mom, Kandi Mitchell, rushed down to the school to give her son a change of clothes. She then demanded to speak with the principal.

"I said what an honorable thing as to have your son have a Marine shirt on," said Kandi Mitchell in a breaking voice. "And it means so much to him. And then to do that in front of all of his classmates."

Many of those classmates took to Zack's Facebook page to show their outrage. Meanwhile, Zack called the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter Department demanding an apology from the school. He's not going to get one.

"From our perspective it's a non-issue," Dr. Perry Sangalli, the president of St. Xavier, during a telephone interview.

According to Sangalli, the rules for college shirt day were clearly laid out to all seniors, including Zack. Sangalli said only college shirts were allowed and students who weren't going to college had the option to wear a college shirt of their choice. No exceptions. Sangalli said he was sorry Zack got so upset about what happened, but wouldn't apologize for the way the school handled it.

"It would be impossible for Zack not to understand what was expected," said Sangalli, who called the incident a dress code issue.

It's a lot more than that to this future Marine.

"For me the message I got from my disciplinarian was that if you're not going to college you're a nobody," said Zack.

Sangalli said St. Xavier High School is very respectful of the military and those who serve. And the school decided to change its policy as a result of Troubleshooter Eric Flack's investigation.

In an email sent to the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter Department, St. X students and Alumni, and posted to the schools website, the school wrote:

"In response to recent inquiries about appropriate dress code policies for College T-shirt Day, Saint Xavier High School has decided that in the future the school will allow students to wear shirts representing the U.S. Military."

The also school made clear it still holds Zack partly responsible for what happened.

"We wish that the student had approached us in advance to let us know of his intentions. we would have welcomed the opportunity to discuss a military shirt as an option."

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Copyright 2012 WAVE News. All rights reserved.