Parents allege discrimination at York Catholic over Black Lives Matter mask

Parents of a York Catholic student claimed Saturday on social media that their son was the victim of discrimination after officials forced him to remove his mask touting the Black Lives Matter movement before receiving his diploma. 

On Saturday, John Holmes, penned a message on Facebook saying Principal Katie Seufert pulled his son, Dean, out of line and asked him to remove his mask before graduation July 28.

Dean Holmes walks to St. Joseph Church in Springettsbury Township, where the York Catholic High School graduation took place Tuesday, July, 28, 2020. He was asked to remove his mask, which touted Black Lives Matter. Bill Kalina photo

“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,” the post said.

A Sunday statement, written by Arthur Full, chairman of the school board and the Very Rev. Daniel Richards, the pastoral chairman of the board and dean of the York Deanery, said the school gave each student a face shield and that masks could also be worn, if they had been approved in advance.

The Holmes’ son made no such request and instead put his mask on ‘”last-minute” before entering St. Joseph Church in York for Baccalaureate Mass, school officials said.

Senior Dean Holmes was not wearing his mask the 45 minutes prior, as students gathered outside, officials wrote, and traditionally, no messages are permitted on caps and gowns at York Catholic, officials said.

“Any graduate wearing a cap, gown, or mask with any message would have been asked to remove it,” they said.

Richards also said Dean Holmes was pulled aside privately as asked to remove the mask prior to receiving his diploma. 

The school did not reach out to him after his Facebook post, John Holmes said when reached Tuesday, instead opting for the statement.

But several state agencies, including the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the governor’s office and district attorney’s office were responsive, and he filed complaints, he said.

A Facebook post from June Holmes Saturday highlighted an incident at York College prior to graduation the previous Tuesday. Holmes said her son, Dean, was told to remove his Black Lives Matter face mask.

The Holmes family refuted several of school officials' claims, such as their statement that the senior put his mask on at the last minute. The family shared  a timestamped photo  of Dean Holmes wearing the mask and mingling with his peers more than a half-hour before the ceremony. 

Seufert could not be immediately reached  for comment.

'Pattern' at York Catholic: On June 2, Seufert issued a statement decrying the "injustice" of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolice police officers. But the statement did not take a position on the Black Lives Matter movement, which was energized following Floyd's death.

"We must rely on our Christian values where discrimination, injustice, violence, and hatred are sins that will not be tolerated. And we must not allow the political rhetoric to divide us, but rather be united in our values and our voice," she wrote.

In his post Saturday, John Homes highlighted what she said contributed to a pattern of minority underrepresentation at York Catholic.

“I was told by Mrs. (Seufert) in a meeting that 'I can’t find any black teachers,' and my question was, 'Are you looking for any black teachers?'" he wrote.

The post gives two examples of how his son’s freedom of expression was stifled. For one, Dean Holmes was not able to form a club called the black student union and instead had to call it the minority students’ club, the family said.

On another occasion, the family  says Dean Holmes was not  permitted to read his English class essay about being called the "N" word because it was too controversial. “In truth, suppression is just another form of racism,” Holmes wrote.