A private Christian school sponsored by one of Kentucky’s largest Southern Baptist churches is defending the expelling of a student pictured on Facebook celebrating her 15th birthday while wearing a rainbow-colored top behind a similarly colorful cake.
Whitefield Academy, a preschool-12 private school started in 1976 by Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, drew national attention for expelling freshman Kayla Kennedy over “a recent picture, posted on social media, which demonstrates a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs.”
The girl’s mother, who posted the photo taken in December of her daughter blowing out candles after her birthday dinner at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant, said school administrators jumped to a mistaken conclusion that the color scheme was a statement about gay rights.
“It was a happy moment,” mother Kimberly Alford told Louisville television station WAVE3. “We were celebrating her 15th birthday, the day God gave me her, not supporting any sexuality or anything like that,” Alford said.
Alford received an email from Whitefield Academy Jan. 6 informing her that Kayla was being expelled “due to a continued breach of school policies and expectations.”
“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,” the message said. “Per our in-person meeting on Oct. 17, 2019, we made it clear that any further promotion, celebration, or any other actions and attitudes that are counter to Whitefield’s philosophy would not be tolerated. As a result, we regret to inform you that Kayla is being dismissed from the school, effective immediately.”
WAVE3 News said Whitefield officials did not respond to interview requests prior to the story that aired Monday, but after receiving negative feedback issued a statement about “inaccurate media reports … stating that the student in question was expelled from our school solely for a social media post.”
School officials said the girl violated Whitefield’s student code of conduct numerous times over the last two years and did not live up to a final chance to adhere to those standards offered to her this fall.
“Whitefield Academy is a Christian-based school with a 43-year history of educating students in a learning environment informed by our shared Christian values,” the statement said. “All parents who enroll their children in our private school know up front that we ask the students to adhere to a lifestyle informed by our Christian beliefs. There are numerous school options in our community for students who do not wish to attend a Christian-based school, and we wish our former student all the best as she finds a learning environment that is right for her.”
Originally known as Highview Baptist Christian School, the school was renamed Whitefield Academy in 2003 after George Whitefield, a British evangelist who in 1740 preached a series of revivals in North America that became known as part of the First Great Awakening. Alongside others including John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, Whitefield preached a theology of salvation that laid the groundwork for modern evangelical Protestantism.
Whitefield Academy’s mission statement is “to serve Christian families by providing a Christ-centered, Biblically-based education marked by academic excellence and spiritual vitality.”
Its vision is “to produce powerful and effective student leaders who will impact their world through Biblical thought and action in obedience to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and the Great Commandment (Mark 12:30-31).”
The school’s philosophy statement rejects “relativism and secularism that accompany political, ideological or philosophical agendas.”
“While many points of view may be examined, Whitefield Academy unapologetically advocates preservation of a uniquely Christian worldview,” the statement says.
Alford told WAVE3 News that both she and her daughter feel judged, and she fears the experience will have a permanent impact on her child. “You know we teach our kids what would Jesus do,” Alford said. “What would he do here?”
The Fairness Campaign, Kentucky’s LGBTQ advocacy organization founded in 1991, called the expulsion from Whitefield Baptist Academy “sad and outrageous.”
Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that while the rainbow often is used as a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer pride and support for LGBTQ rights, it is also mentioned in the Bible as a symbol of God’s covenant with Noah following the flood in Genesis 9.
“So the idea that they would eject someone for the simple display of a rainbow is ludicrous,” Hartman said.
Highview Baptist Church, which sponsors Whitefield Academy, is a multi-site megachurch affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Convention.
Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, was Highview’s senior pastor from 1996 to 2010.
Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, was teaching pastor there from 2013 to 2016.
Russell Moore, head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was a teaching pastor at Highview from 2008 until 2012 while serving as dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Former members include Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and current candidate for president of the Southern Baptist Convention, attended Highview for many years but now is a member of Third Baptist Church in Louisville.