A high school in Pennsylvania forced a student to remove a “Black Lives Matter” face mask during an in-person graduation ceremony. Eighteen-year-old Dean Holmes of York Catholic High School didn’t think the message on his mask would be a problem. Then, the school made him remove it at the start of the event. Now Dean and his father are speaking out, while the school defends itself from public backlash.
Controversy at York Catholic High
The York Daily Record reports the school did not require attendees to wear masks at the July 28 ceremony. Instead, they distributed face shields to students. Still, Holmes and two other students opted to wear masks underneath their face shields.
Holmes told the York Daily Record that he had worn the mask during a rehearsal for the ceremony without incident. However, as the procession began, he says teachers asked him to remove the mask since students were given face shields. Holmes responded that he still wished to wear his mask.
“And then they pulled me out of line and they said, ‘Dean, we can get you another mask’ — the issue was definitely the Black Lives Matter on the mask,” Holmes said.
Refusing to wear a replacement mask, Holmes was then faced with the decision between going mask-less or missing his graduation ceremony. Reluctantly, he chose to remove the mask.
“I sat through the rest of the ceremony very upset,” Holmes said. “It felt like another time York Catholic was trying to put me down, kind of make me feel smaller. Because in the past, there have been issues, too — of them trying to make me smaller, make me feel less like an individual. But it was graduation.”
Speaking to WGAL News, Holmes said he remains upset over the incident.
“I don’t know what to do right now. I’m so mad. I can’t believe they just did that to me and they put my health at risk.”
Decorum or Discrimination?
In a statement addressing the controversy, York Catholic mentioned that Holmes “did not seek permission to wear a face mask in addition to the face shield.” However, WGAL notes that a letter sent to parents in advance of the ceremony made no mention of permission being required for masks.
The school’s statement also alleges that Holmes waited until just before the ceremony to put on his mask, contradicting his own claims.
“It was not until the last minute, right before entering the church, that the face mask with writing was put on,” the statement read. It went on to note that the “decorum” of the school’s graduation ceremonies prohibited messages on caps and gowns, and that anyone else with a message on their mask would have been asked to remove it.
Holmes’ father John, however, isn’t convinced decorum was the issue. In a letter he addressed to the Diocese of Harrisburg and shared to Facebook, the father said his son was “discriminated against in plain sight for his race and prior civil rights activism.”
He also says this isn’t the first time. John pointed to an essay his son wrote for his English class detailing his experiences as a Black student at a majority white school. The essay received 106% and a glowing review from Dean’s teacher. However, the school barred him from entering it in a speech contest, calling it “too controversial to read in front of the younger students,” reports the Daily Record.
“Another way to put him down,” Holmes’ father said. “And things need to change. You have to lead from the front. You can’t lead from the middle or the back. So that’s what we’re doing. We’re leading from the front.”
This incident follows a similar one from July where a 6-year-old girl was dismissed from her preschool after wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts. The school said the shirts were prohibited for expressing a parent’s “political view.”