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Christian school expels teen after she posed with rainbow birthday cake, mother says

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Kimberly Alford says she typically plans big birthday celebrations for her daughter. But when Kayla Kenney turned 15 late last month, the Louisville mother opted to organize a smaller gathering of friends and family at Texas Roadhouse, one of her daughter’s favorite restaurants.

Ahead of the party, Alford instructed a bakery to decorate a cake with colors that “pop,” she recalled. It just so happened that the cake’s rainbow motif mirrored the design on her daughter’s sweater, and she took a picture of Kayla smiling next to it to commemorate the Dec. 30 party.

Now, Alford alleges the seemingly innocuous photo caused Kayla to be expelled from Whitefield Academy, a private Christian school in Louisville, where her daughter was a freshman. In an email to the family on Jan. 6, the academy’s head of school, Bruce Jacobson, wrote that Kayla’s enrollment was terminated, effective immediately, because of a social media post.

Alford said an image of her Facebook post was included as an attachment to the email.

“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,” Jacobson wrote. “We made it clear that any further promotion, celebration or any other action and attitudes counter to Whitefield’s philosophy will not be tolerated.”

The school later said in a statement that the decision was a result of two years of conduct violations, but failed to elaborate.

Alford said she is aware that the rainbow-striped flag is a symbol of the LGBTQ community, but emphasized that her daughter’s matching rainbow cake and sweater were simply a coincidental aesthetic and not intended to mean anything more. The expulsion was first covered this week by local news outlets, including the Courier-Journal.

“Rainbows don’t mean you’re a certain gender or certain sex or sexuality,” Alford told The Washington Post, adding that she provided the school a receipt from the bakery listing the cake’s design as “assorted colors.” “I’m not saying she’s this or that — she’s just Kayla to me. … I ordered the cake, she didn’t.”

But that explanation was apparently insufficient for Whitefield Academy, a pre-K-12 school that is affiliated with the local Highview Baptist Church. A request to speak directly with the school’s headmaster was not returned Tuesday afternoon, but in an emailed statement to The Post, the academy decried “inaccurate media reports” suggesting Kayla was expelled solely because of a Facebook post.

“In fact, she has unfortunately violated our student code of conduct numerous times over the past two years,” the school said in the statement. “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.”

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Whitefield Academy officials did not provide details on the alleged transgressions that preceded Kayla’s expulsion. The school cited Kentucky law and its own guidelines in the decision to expel her, adding, “All parents who enroll their children in our private school know upfront that we ask the students to adhere to a lifestyle informed by our Christian beliefs.”

Alford acknowledged that Kayla had been disciplined for several behavioral issues in the past. She said her daughter was once caught with an e-cigarette and, in another instance, got in trouble after cutting out of school during lunch. The mother confirmed that her daughter was placed on probation in October and has since worked to improve her grades and correct her behavior.

The family was stunned by the school’s rationale for the expulsion. Alford noted that she has an older daughter who also graduated from Whitefield Academy.

“She was really hurt. She was very upset because she thought, ‘All my friends are going back to school in the morning, and I don’t have anywhere to go,’” Alford recalled. She said Kayla, who had attended Whitefield Academy for three years, told her, “Mom, I didn’t do anything wrong.”

According to Whitefield Academy’s parent/student handbook, the school seeks to work in tandem with children’s families to “mold students to be Christ-like.”

“On occasion, the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home may be counter or in opposition to the Biblical lifestyle the school teaches,” the handbook says. “This includes, but is not limited to, sexual immorality, homosexual orientation, or the inability to support Biblical standards of right and wrong.”

In these cases, the handbook notes, the school has the right to refuse admission or discontinue the enrollment of a current student. The Courier-Journal notes that the Louisville Fairness Ordinance, which passed in 1999, contains exemptions for religious organizations and schools.

“Our code of conduct is on par with other private Christian schools in our area,” the school wrote in its statement Tuesday. “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.”

Alford said that her attempt to appeal Jacobson’s decision was immediately denied and that the school refused to let Kayla finish the year. She said Whitefield Academy agreed to remove the expulsion from her transcript and change it to a voluntary withdrawal. Her daughter has already relocated to a new public school, where she “seems to be adapting.”

Reflecting on the school’s conduct policy, the mother wondered, “Who determines what’s Christ-like?”

“I just want her to be true to who she is,” the mother said. “She is very individual.”

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