WEST JEFFERSON — A night of celebration has been followed by controversy, as one family’s experience has gone viral.
After her daughter was not allowed to walk during Ashe County High School’s May 31 Graduation Ceremony due to improper footwear, mother Amanda Dixon took her thoughts to YouTube, calling on Ashe County High School for its decision.
“She has struggled for 13 years to get to this day,” Dixon said in the video. “At 7 p.m. this evening, graduation was supposed to start. At 6:25 p.m., I was told she would not be able to walk for her shoes, which she had previously been approved to wear. ... Thank you, Ashe County High School, for taking my daughter’s day away from her.”
Dixon continued, adding that her daughter, who asked to remain unnamed, battled bullying and educational struggles throughout her time in school. Dixon also said she would be contacting a lawyer about the matter.
“This was her day,” Dixon said in the video. “This was her ceremony, just like all of the other students that were there. Her wearing black Converse shoes was not going to make or break their day.”
Ashe County Schools responded with a release Monday morning.
“For 19 years, Ashe County High School has educated and supported all students through their educational journey. The graduation experience is a time for students to be recognized for their hard work and accomplishments. In the months prior to this event, seniors are made aware of all the activities that will be leading up to this milestone. Students are informed of dress attire that meet the guidelines to participate in the ceremony,” according to the release.
The release continued, stating that graduation from high school is a momentous occasion, not only for graduates, but for their families. Students are expected to wear dress clothing and dress shoes, and all seniors are required to follow the same policy.
Additionally, the release described that wardrobe assistance can be provided to any student needing proper attire.
“In the seven years I have been an administrator at Ashe County High School, we have always supplied any clothing needs for any student,” Principal Amanda Hipp said in the release.
According to ACHS, faculty did receive an email May 29 from Graduation Coordinator Christina Pennington, stating that at 6:30 p.m., on the night of graduation, “Seniors must be in (their) assigned room to take attendance and check dress code. Please see Linda Sloan if you see someone who needs appropriate shoes (Absolutely no tennis shoes or converse — even the sparkly cute ones).”
According to ACS Superintendent Phyllis Yates, ACHS provided dress pants for two students who wore jeans for the occasion.
Dixon said she believes other students did not have to follow the dress code.
“(My daughter) was not trying to be a rebel and break the dress code,” Dixon said in a phone interview. “The dress code was not applied to all students.”
Yates said in a phone interview that ACS has started an investigation into the incident at the high school, adding that ACS has not heard from a lawyer representing Dixon as of presstime.
Yates continued, saying the only two people who can approve graduation attire are Hipp and Pennington. Yates said neither signed off on the Converse shoes.
In the phone interview, Dixon said her daughter wore the same outfit she did to the ACHS 2019 Prom, for which the shoes were acceptable by ACHS standards. Dixon said her daughter was offered shoes from the school, but the offers were either much too small or too large to wear. She added that her daughter was afraid she would fall on stage if the shoes were too large. Dixon said one alternative that was provided was for her daughter to wear her father’s work boots, which he was wearing at the time. The shoes were five sizes too big, according to Dixon.
According to Human Resources Officer Lesia Goodman, the student was offered shoes from a teacher, and Guidance Receptionist Linda Sloan searched the high school’s clothing closet thoroughly for other options for the student. When Sloan came out of the closet, the student had left the premises, according to Goodman.
After gaining traction on AVAAZ.org, a site for community petitions, Dixon has received 808 online signatures as of presstime to support changing requirements for walking at graduation. Additionally, Dixon’s YouTube video has more than 13,000 views.
Ashe Post & Times will provide more updates on this developing story as they are released.