The news media, which never tires of cake-related controversies, spent some time last week ginning up outrage towards a Christian school in Louisville, Kentucky. According to the headlines, the stodgy bigots over at Whitefield Academy expelled a 15-year-old student for the crime of eating a multi-colored birthday cake.
The headlines were breathless and unanimous:
And so on.
Some of the headlines include the “mother says” qualifier, while others simply assert the family’s claims as objective fact. But in either case, the point is to paint the school as clear villains in the situation.
Here’s how the body of the CBS report, linked above, frames the story:
A teenager from Kentucky celebrated her 15th birthday last month by blowing out the candles on a rainbow cake while wearing a rainbow sweater. After her mother posted a photo from her birthday party on Facebook, the teen was expelled from her Christian high school.Kayla Kenney was a freshman at Whitefield Academy, a private Christian school in Louisville, until she was expelled last week. Her mother said the school called her daughter’s sweater and cake “lifestyle violations.”
Kenney’s mom, Kimberly Alford, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that she received an email from Whitefield Academy’s head of school, Bruce Jacobson, expelling her daughter. He wrote that the picture she posted on Facebook “demonstrates a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs.”
While theis a symbol of LGBTQ rights, Alford said when she ordered the cake, the design was described as having “assorted colors” and was not meant to have a deeper meaning.
Already, even without any more information than what the media has deigned to provide, a thoughtful person should be extremely skeptical. It is not a simple or easy process to expel a student. At a private school, the expulsion comes with a financial cost. You aren’t just kicking the student to the curb, but her tuition alongside her. Why would a school go through that trouble and absorb that cost over something as trivial as a cake? And if they do issue expulsions so easily, shouldn’t there be dozens of other stories of students getting tossed out for similarly arbitrary reasons? There are almost always two sides to a story like this. Could this be the exception where the first version of the story, as presented by a partisan for one side of the dispute, is entirely accurate and faithful to the facts? Maybe. But probably not.
Social media is not a place for this sort of healthy skepticism, so thousands of people hopped on the outrage train and issued angry tweets about the stupidity and pettiness of this school, in particular, and Christian schools, in general, and Christians, in general. And then, after the reputation of Whitefield Academy had been sufficiently injured, the train moved on and the media lost interest. The outrage mob always descends like a tornado, rips everything to shreds, and dissipates as quickly as it formed. By the time the other side of the story is presented, nobody cares any longer.
Predictably, the other side of the story in this case, as reported by Rod Dreher over the weekend, paints a very different picture from the one offered by the family and the media. After looking at the student’s social media posts, talking to insiders at the school, and reading the school’s public statements, Dreher reports that the student was allegedly a perpetual troublemaker who had been given numerous warnings about her behavior. She also allegedly promoted the LGBT lifestyle both at school and in her social media posts. The rainbow cake and sweater were a part of this pattern — and by far not the most egregious example of it — and it is this pattern of flouting the rules and violating school policy that got her expelled. The apparently purposeful trolling she did with the cake may have been the last straw, but it is dishonest to report that it was the only straw.
School principal Dr. Bruce Jacobson, while limited in his ability to defend his actions due to confidentiality concerns, explained in a letter to parents that the student had been specifically warned “that any further promotion, celebration, or any other actions and attitudes that are counter to Whitefield’s philosophy would not be tolerated.” I suppose you could choose to believe that the rainbow cake and sweater weren’t intended to promote or celebrate anything, and didn’t have any “deeper meaning” at all, as the mother contends, but Dreher’s report makes that extremely hard to believe. From his piece:
When Alford says her daughter “is no angel,” and confirms that she has had “disciplinary issues,” she’s understating matters. My understanding is that Kayla Kenney had a long, specific list of repeated infractions — bullying, disrespecting teachers, vaping in school (as Alford acknowledges), and so forth. Part of what she has allegedly done is promoting LGBT consciousness in the school, including aggression on that front. I’m trying to be delicate here, but I can tell you that she has transgressed against other students on this front, to promote bisexuality. For example, she allegedly drew rainbows and wrote slogans like “bi pride” on other kids’ papers, and gave at least two different girls the impression that she was sexually harassing them. Kayla has been presenting herself as gay on her Instagram account.
Granted, many people will feel that expelling a student for promoting the LGBT lifestyle isn’t any better than expelling her for eating a cake. But one’s personal feelings about Christian teaching on homosexuality are irrelevant. This is a private Christian school. In that role, it understandably seeks to advance Christian teaching on all matters, including sexuality. If you do not agree with those teachings, if you think those teachings are barbaric and bigoted and so on, you are quite free to attend any other school. Nobody forced this student’s parents to enroll her in this particular academic institution. Louisville is not some outpost in the wilderness with no other schools around for hundreds of miles. This family must have had many options. They chose the one place where waving a gay flag will get you into trouble. They gave this place their money. They signed an agreement swearing to follow its rules. And then, apparently, they decided they didn’t like the rules anymore. Whose fault is that? Not the school’s, as far as I can tell.