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Settlement reached in 'rainbow cake' photo lawsuit against a Louisville Christian school – Courier Journal

The parties in a 2020 lawsuit from two parents who claimed Whitefield Academy, a private Christian school in Louisville, expelled their daughter for celebrating her birthday with a rainbow-themed cake recently reached a settlement agreement to close the case.
Attorneys from each side either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to share the settlement amount along with other specifics about the conclusion of the case, which garnered some national attention after it came to light in 2020. Jefferson Circuit Judge Annie O’Connell dismissed the case via an order entered Sept. 2 into online court records.
Kimberly Alford and Mark Kenney filed the suit in January 2020 against Whitefield Academy, located at 7711 Fegenbush Lane, claiming the school did not follow its disciplinary procedures before it expelled their then-15-year-old daughter and outed her as gay. 
While not disclosing the settlement amount, Alford told The Courier Journal in a message “it was a joke … [f]or what they put me and my daughter through.”
Other defendants included The American Conservative magazine and one of its writers, Rod Dreher; the American Ideas Institute, which publishes the magazine; and Bruce Jacobson, Whitefield Academy’s head of school.
Claims made in a lawsuit represent one side of a case. The 2020 lawsuit and its various arguments eventually went to the Kentucky Court of Appeals before getting sent back to Jefferson Circuit Court.
The lawsuit came after Alford told The Courier Journal and several other local news outlets that her daughter had been a freshman at Whitefield Academy, a prekindergarten-12th grade school affiliated with Highview Baptist Church, until Jan. 6, 2020, when the mother received an email from Jacobson saying her daughter was being expelled “immediately due to a post on social media.” 
A screenshot of the Facebook post, which Alford had uploaded to her Facebook page, was included in Jacobson’s email. 
The post featured a photo Alford had taken of her daughter celebrating her birthday in late December 2019 at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant. In the photo, the girl was wearing a sweater featuring a rainbow design and was sitting by a rainbow-themed cake.
The rainbow flag is often used as a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer pride and support for LGBTQ rights.
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But the lawsuit said the receipt for the cake listed it as having “assorted colors” and included nothing about it being an LGBTQ “pride” cake. The girl’s shirt also did not include the word “gay” or any abbreviations related to the LGBTQ movement, the lawsuit said. 
Alford said an unknown person later shared the photo with officials at Whitefield Academy. 
Jacobson wrote in his email to Alford that the picture “demonstrates a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs” and, alluding to allegations of bad behavior in school on the part of her daughter, said it followed two years of “lifestyle violations.” 
Jacobson declined at the time to provide additional details on the violations or whether the photo featuring the rainbow cake led to the girl’s expulsion but said students’ families “know that they have expectations” to follow. 
Still, Alford told The Courier Journal that she and her daughter met with school officials in October 2019 to discuss concerns about the girl “pushing her sexuality on other students” and how a disciplinary officer had found Juul pods in her backpack. 
Whitefield Academy also later issued a statement saying “inaccurate media reports” were “circling” and “stating that the student in question was expelled from our school solely for a social media post.” 
“In fact, she has unfortunately violated our student code of conduct numerous times over the past two years,” the school said. 
The suit said that after the girl was disciplined for the “e-cigarette” issue, the school required her to “begin counseling with a school administrator.” However, the counseling did not relate to “e-cigarette use” but rather the girl’s sexuality, according to the lawsuit. 
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The suit says the counselor required that the girl read “Gay Girl, Good God,” a book in which author Jackie Hill Perry shares her story of being gay before “finding wholeness.” 
After the counseling began, the suit said, a Whitefield Academy teacher complained the girl had gotten an “undercut” by shaving a few inches of hair from her neckline.  Nothing in Whitefield Academy’s contract with parents prohibits the “undercut,” according to the lawsuit. 
Besides the haircut complaint, the suit said the girl did not have any disciplinary issues after she began counseling. 
According to Whitefield Academy’s parent/student handbook, high school students could face expulsion “when there is a serious departure from the school’s guidelines” for student conduct. 
“On occasion, the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home may be counter or in opposition to the biblical lifestyle the school teaches,” the handbook added. “This includes, but is not limited to, sexual immorality, homosexual orientation or the inability to support Biblical standards of right and wrong. …In such cases, the school reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a student.” 
The lawsuit also claimed Whitefield Academy violated its handbook, which says high school students face numerous disciplinary options, including detention, disciplinary referrals and suspension, before expulsion.
The school “effectively skipped” over other disciplinary steps by expelling the girl “because of a photograph” implying she was gay, according to the complaint. 
Attorney Georgia Connally, who filed the suit on behalf of the parents, previously noted Whitefield Academy’s policies to expel students who may go against its religious beliefs are permitted under exemptions for faith-based schools in Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance, which protects residents from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identification. 
Connally said in 2020 the school “can discriminate against her, but there are still steps that they didn’t follow” under the disciplinary process. 
The school and its defense team had argued in court that Whitefield Academy’s arbitration clause that families agree to when enrolling students should have resulted in the lawsuit’s dismissal.
That clause, included in court documents, says “any claim or dispute arising out of or related to this agreement, including statutory claims, shall be settled by biblically based mediation.”
“If resolution of the dispute and reconciliation do not result from such effort, the matter shall then be submitted to a panel of three arbitrator for binding arbitration,” the clause also says.
The lawsuit also went after Dreher and his “Rainbow Cake Girl” story that published Jan. 17, 2020, in The American Conservative. 
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Dreher, a senior editor for the Washington, D.C.-based magazine, wrote that the “mainstream media” had “sandbagged” the story on Whitefield Academy. 
Citing unnamed sources and including screenshots of Instagram posts from Alford’s daughter that were later removed from the online article over “possible copyright concerns,” Dreher alleged the girl had promoted “LGBT consciousness in the school” and committed other offenses such as bullying and “disrespecting teachers.” 
But the lawsuit said the girl “does NOT have an extensive disciplinary history at Whitefield” and there is “no evidence” she ever “bullied or harassed another student.” 
The article’s initial use of photos from the girl’s private social media account came without parental consent, the suit said.
Dreher also wrote another story in January 2020, titled “Hating so Love Can Win,” that the lawsuit said “falsely claimed” the girl “had sexually harassed another student.”  
Alford said in 2020 that she unsuccessfully appealed her daughter’s expulsion and later enrolled her in a public school. 
Reach Billy Kobin atbkobin@courierjournal.com 

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