A black teenager said he was forced to take off his Black Lives Matter face covering during his private high school graduation ceremony in Pennsylvania last month.
Dean Holmes, 18, donned the mask prior to the July 28 ceremony for the York Catholic High School in York, Pa., in lieu of a face shield. But as he lined up in a procession before the ceremony, he was told by the school principal to remove the covering, Holmes told Fox News.
“I was so mad,” Holmes said. “That’s pretty much them saying ‘No, we don’t care about you at all. We don’t care about your health … and we also don’t care about you as a black man.’”
In a lengthy Facebook post after the incident, John Holmes, Dean’s father, took issue with the school’s actions.
“In my opinion his health and safety were jeopardized when he was forced to remove his Covid-19 protective mask,” he wrote. “Secondly, his freedom of expression was censored when he was compelled to remove his mask or face the very real possibility of not graduating.”
The school said it gave everyone a face shield in lieu of a mask, and that two other graduates chose to wear masks and sought permission before doing so. Dean Holmes said he wore his mask prior to the ceremony for nearly an hour and wasn’t told anything by school administrators.
“There’s a lot of really good support from the school community,” Holmes said of the reaction to the incident and the message on the mask. “But on the other hand, there are also people who are against it.”
John Holmes and his wife both wore Black Lives Matter masks during the ceremony, he told Fox News.
In his social media post, he detailed racist incidents his son was subjected to at the school, including an essay he wrote for English class but wasn’t allowed to read at a speech contest because it “was too controversial.”
“As a parent I will not stand for my son being humiliated publicly, having his basic human dignity crushed on what should have been one of the happiest days of his young life,” he wrote. “My son literally was discriminated against in plain sight based on his race and his prior civil rights activism, and this latest action is part of a pattern and practice of discrimination at York Catholic and it cannot stand unchallenged.”
In a statement on its website, the school said caps or gowns — and now masks — with messages are prohibited at graduation ceremonies. The school said Dean Holmes was asked to remove his mask privately, away from the other graduates and guests.
“The graduate mentioned in the statement by the parent did not seek permission to wear a face mask in addition to the face shield, nor was the face mask worn at all during the 45 minutes prior to the processional portion of the ceremony,” the school said. “It was not until the last minute, right before entering the church, that the face mask with writing was put on.”
John Holmes argued that the Black Lives Matter message on his son’s mask was not a political statement.
“It’s a political statement to white folks who are uncomfortable with black issues,” he said.
Holmes plans in the fall to attend New York University, where he will study economics. He is planning a march at the school next week over the incident.