Kelli Ann DeVoe relaxes with her cat, Fiona. The rose tattoo on her left arm was removed in her graduation photo, left, for the York County School of
Kelli Ann DeVoe relaxes with her cat, Fiona. The rose tattoo on her left arm was removed in her graduation photo, left, for the York County School of Technology Licensed Practical Nurse program. A student who graduated with honors, DeVoe is frustrated by the discrimination she says still exists against body art. (Bil Bowden photo/Submitted photo)

Kelli Ann DeVoe has been told

  she's "too pretty to do that" and asked why she would "do that" to her body.

But she bills the following tattoo tale as the "Best. Story. Ever."

She was working in York Hospital's Tower 3 when she reached across a patient to take his blood pressure for 7 a.m. vitals.

Her sleeve slid up her arm, and he saw the ink.

He told her, 'That's just foolish, young lady.'

Thinking she had made the man uncomfortable, she pulled on a sweater before returning to his room four hours later. This time, she reached for his opposite arm to check his vitals.

"That arm was covered (with tattoos), up and down," she said. "I actually woke him up ... and was like, 'What is this?'"

"He giggled and he said, 'Young lady, tattoos are for old sailors,'" she said. "He got his first one in the Port of Baltimore when he was 13."

The single mother of two young boys ended up taking her lunch break in his room, talking and forming an unlikely connection because of their common body art, she said.

But DeVoe said she has since learned that some people are so opposed to the idea of a tattooed nurse that, if given the chance, they'd wipe the color from her skin.

Something's missing: DeVoe, 32, graduated from York County

School of Technology's Licensed Practical Nurse program in June.

A B-plus student, she took two honors, one for excellence in patient care with the elderly and a second for perseverance through adversity. The second award was given for finishing the last eight weeks of her schooling with a serious injury after being a victim of violence.

But when she opened her graduation photos, one subtraction made her feel like the school that had just rewarded her actually wanted her -- at least her arm -- to be a bit different, she said.

She was front and center in the class of 21 females and one male wearing crisp white uniforms, her left arm nearly the same color of her unblemished flesh.

"They airbrushed my tattoo out of the photo," she said. "They reward me for knowing how hard I work, then undermine my intelligence or integrity in that way."

DeVoe, who has numerous tattoos in various locations from behind her ears to her toes, said she goes out of her way to be polite and well-spoken -- whether at one of her sons' plays or at work -- so she isn't stereotyped.

She covered her arms at clinical sites and, to the best of her knowledge, has never offended a patient, she said.

But she expected the class photo to offer a more accurate representation of her, including her choice of self-expression.

"It wasn't the school's place to judge me," she said. "It's 2013 and it's about time that we get over it. There are a lot of really intelligent people who have one tattoo or maybe a sleeve, and they're stereotyped or looked over."

Perhaps ironically, the rose on her left arm, the tattoo that would have been visible in the photo, symbolizes the inner strength women need to persevere in hard times, she said. It was inspired by the artwork in one of her favorite books, which explores womanly intuition and gifts.

Doesn't expect action: DeVoe said she doesn't expect any action from the school, but she wants people to know people are "still" being discriminated against for their ink.

"That picture would've been just fine with a tattoo on my arm," she said. "Who's to stop them from making the black girl a little lighter, or taking 10 pounds off somebody?"

School director David Thomas said the class photos are taken every year, and he wasn't aware there were issues with the air-brushing.

Thomas said he doesn't have a position and "never even thought of" whether tattoos should be brushed out of the photos, and he wasn't sure whether changes were made to other students.

He deferred comment to Stuart Savin, coordinator of adult education.

Savin said confidentiality rules prevent him from speaking about specific students, but the tech school follows the standards of other nursing programs and clinical sites that require tattoos to be covered.

"In our student code of conduct, tattoos are not permitted ... because some could be offensive," he said. "If a student wants to come to our program, we're very upfront about it."

He said neither he nor the program's coordinator directed the air-brushing, but the school contracts with a photographer to "have them produce a clean photo."

He said the photographer might have to adjust the photo because of shadows or other blemishes, and though it's "not anything that we request," a tattoo could be removed because the photo is intended to present the nurses in their full clinical role. Visible tattoos aren't permitted in that full clinical role, Savin said.

Savin said he'll make sure that, for the next class of nurses, the photo release form will note the school's policy, per clinical guidelines, requires tattoos to be covered.

Dallastown-based photographer Mike Inkrote, who took the photos, declined to comment.

-- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.