Catholic School Withholds Diploma Over Girl's Footwear Choice [UPDATED]

Illustration for article titled Catholic School Withholds Diploma Over Girl's Footwear Choice [UPDATED]

A Catholic high school in Fairfax, Virginia is refusing to give a senior her diploma because she wore black sneakers to graduation. Jesus Christ could not be reached for comment.


The girl tells Jezebel she participated in the ceremony, but was informed afterwards that she wouldn’t be given her diploma until she served a day of detention over the summer. The girl and her mother say she’s previously been given multiple detentions for wearing pink socks. This all seems like a great use of everyone’s time!

The school is Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia. Paul VI was previously covered in Jezebel after they asked a sophomore girl to leave school in 2013 for sending a shirtless photo of herself on a dare. (The male students who received the photo and shared it around were not punished.)

Paul VI continues to have solid priorities. The graduating 17-year-old, whose mother requested we refer to her only by her first name, Rachel, says the school warned her class that they’d need to wear black, “appropriate” footwear to graduation. But Rachel opted not to wear high heels to the graduation ceremony, because she was nervous she might fall.

“I’m a self-conscious person,” she tells Jezebel. “We have our graduation at a college, it’s a big stage. You walk in front of everyone. I can’t walk in heels and all my flats are poor quality and I would get blisters. So I was like, why not wear something I feel comfortable in?” The photo up top are the clean, brand-new black sneakers she chose; she’s standing next to a classmate in heels, which is what most every other girl opted to wear, she says.

Rachel, like many other teenage girls at seemingly every high school in America, has gotten in trouble several times this year for dress code transgressions. She observes that the school’s rules and its administrators’ attentions seem weighted in one direction, gender-wise.

“At the beginning of the year, the school made a new rule that your skirt has to come to your knee,” Rachel explains. That was a struggle for her, given that she’s 5’10”. Meanwhile, she says, “they don’t enforce the rules that say the boys have to tuck in shirts or wear pants that fit them.”


Rachel’s gotten “so many detentions” for too-short skirts, she says, or else because her socks were pink, instead of the mandated black or white.

“Only some teachers enforce the rules,” she explains, which is why she occasionally chose to ignore the sock-and-skirt restrictions.


Before graduation, Rachel says, the school sent out an email mandating a similarly strict dress code: No “casual shoes,” no sandals, and skirts or dresses for the women, plus close-cropped hair for the men. But she didn’t figure anyone would really notice or care, given that everyone was wearing long robes. Her mother says school administrators even threatened to bring a razor and shave any man who wasn’t sufficiently clean-shaven, but everyone figured they were either joking or exaggerating.

Rachel wasn’t able to get her cap and gown until she served four more hours of detention for a previous pink sock offense. She finished that on Friday, and was finally given her cap and gown Friday evening. She showed up for graduation Sunday morning, wearing sneakers.


Her mother, who asked that we not use her name, also packed a pair of flats: “I told her, ‘If they give you any guff, just come change.’” Rachel didn’t have to: she lined up for graduation and, along with her classmates, passed a cursory visual inspection before the ceremony began. She crossed the stage, shook hands with Paul VI’s administrators, and was handed a fake, ceremonial diploma.

With everyone else, she went backstage afterwards to get the real thing. But then, the principal, Virgina Colwell, the assistant principal Eileen Hanley, and a third administrator she didn’t recognize pulled her out of line, she says.


“You’re not getting your diploma,” Hanley told her. “You know you shouldn’t have worn those shoes.”

Rachel pointed out she’d passed “inspection” and begged for her diploma. The administrators refused, and she ran outside crying.


Rachel’s mother says she went inside, confronted Hanley, and demanded her daughter’s diploma, pointing out that they’d had nearly an hour before the ceremony to ask her to change.

“This is a kid wearing sneakers,” Rachel’s mother, clearly exasperated, tells Jezebel. “Not a kid flipping the audience off. This is a good kid. She graduated fine, she did volunteer work. This is everything you’d want a kid to be. But I guess they just took her sneakers very personally.” (None of the three administrators who supposedly withheld the diploma responded to interview requests from Jezebel. They were contacted by phone and email.)


Rachel’s mother says she was told that her daughter wouldn’t get her diploma until she did a day of detention over the summer. When she sent a follow-up email expressing her outrage and disappointment, a school administrator told her, she says “We’re going to have to agree to disagree,” and said they were still holding on to a diploma from 2010 that someone never picked up.

Rachel’s mother says there’s “no way” Rachel will do detention.

“Nope,” she says. “She’s done. They’ll get her in the there and if I’m not around they’re going to berate her.”


Rachel watched two boys in her homeroom class wear sneakers all year in long, in defiance of the school’s dress code. The night before graduation, during a class party, she says she saw a classmate getting an airbrushed temporary tattoo “of a confederate flag.” But sneakers were evidently a step too far.

“I was looking forward to getting my diploma for years,” she says sadly. “But I was in the car bawling instead. They ruined that moment for me.”


Update, 12:05 p.m.: Rachel and her mother say they received a phone call an email this morning from Assistant Principal and Dean of Students Patrick McGroarty. They say McGroarty told them that Paul VI will also withhold Rachel’s transcript until she completes her sneaker detention. Rachel graduated with honors and has been accepted to a university which her family requested we not identify by name. Without a transcript, though, she could have trouble enrolling classes.

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Jesus Christ could not be reached for comment.

Snorted my coffee into my nose. Not even mad.

A+ Anna.