“She was just representing my parents,” Kayleigh Craddock’s mom tells PEOPLE, sharing that the school has now “ruined” a special high school memory
Cynthia Vasquez of Freeport, Texas, was looking forward to picking up her daughter Kayleigh Craddock, 18, from her college this week so she could attend homecoming festivities at her former high school, where she was crowned homecoming queen last year.
However, a week before Friday's event, Vasquez tells PEOPLE she received a surprising phone call from the principal at Brazosport High School. He told her that because Kayleigh wore a Mexican heritage sash at her graduation this past May — which the school says was a violation of their graduation dress guidelines — she would not be invited to this year's festivities or have the opportunity to crown the new homecoming queen.
The news was a shock to Vasquez. “You want to wait until a week before homecoming to tell me that she can't participate?" Vasquez recalls of her Sept. 22 conversation with the principal. In response, she says he replied, "'There's nothing we can do about it.'"
In an email to PEOPLE Tuesday, the Brazosport Independent School District (BISD) said that the dress guidelines for the graduation ceremony were shared with all seniors in advance. The district said that staff asked Kayleigh to remove the stole but she refused.
“Graduation dress guidelines are communicated to all graduates,” the school district wrote in a statement. “The school policy addresses the wearing of unauthorized sashes or accessories. Unfortunately, a student wore an unapproved sash that was not in the guidelines for graduation dress. The student was asked to comply with the dress guidelines and refused.
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“The graduate was Homecoming Queen last school year, however, because of the insubordination at the graduation ceremony last May, the graduate was not invited back to participate in the crowning of this year’s Homecoming Queen," they added.
“It is always our intent to maintain the dignity and respect of our graduation ceremonies, and we expect our students to adhere to the established guidelines,” BISD’s statement concluded.
Vasquez recalls her daughter being both upset and sad following the call from the principal. “She's like, ‘Why did he wait so long to address it? That’s what I’m not understanding. This happened back in May, so why not address it right after?’”
The mother claims that there had been some back-and-forth confusion between Kayleigh and the school on whether she could wear the stole at the graduation event. “It was kind of an up-in-the-air thing,” Vasquez tells PEOPLE.
Vasquez says that they were very late to the ceremony, and when they arrived “she had [the sash] on her."
"One of the teachers told her, ‘Oh, just tuck it under your robe.’ So that's what she did," she adds. "There are several pictures of her where it's under her robe like they told her to do."
“I know the district said that she was insubordinate because they told her to take it off,” Vasquez continues. “Nobody told her to take it off. Kayleigh would've abided by the rules. She would've taken it off."
She disputes the part of BISD’s statement alleging that Kayleigh was warned by school officials to not wear the stole. “If that's the case, who's the teacher who told her? Because nobody told her to take it off," she says.
In an interview with NBC affiliate KPRC-TV, Kayleigh, who is a freshman at Sam Houston State University, said: “I’m half Black and half Mexican, and I want everybody to know that I love both sides equally."
“It wasn't like she was waving it around and causing chaos with it,” Vasquez tells PEOPLE. “She just had it on her. Nobody batted their eyes at it. It wasn't a big thing. She was just representing my parents. My parents are from Mexico and it's her culture. She loves being Mexican. She loves her Mexican culture.”
There were also others at the graduation ceremony whose choice of attire could be considered in violation of the dress guidelines, according to Vasquez
“Why are you only coming after her because she's got the Mexican sash on and not the kid who's wearing tennis shoes or jeans or whatever else that they weren't supposed to wear?” Vasquez asks. “Why is her sash such a big deal? It doesn't make any sense. A dress code violation is a dress code violation, no matter how big or small.”
Kayleigh acknowledged feeling singled out. “Is it because it’s Mexican? You know, why is it such a big issue?,” she told KPRC-TV.
In addition to local and national media coverage, the matter has drawn the attention of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a civil rights organization. "These types of incidents only distract from the real issue of providing a good quality education for under-representative minority students who are less than 2% in college graduation in the science, engineering, math [and] medical fields in our universities,” Sergio Lira, the president of Greater Houston LULAC 4967, tells PEOPLE in a statement.
“Instead of prohibiting a minority student for wearing a beautiful Mexican stole," he continues, "they should focus on honoring the students for meeting all graduation requirements. They should celebrate, not instigate a harmless problem."
Vasquez says that homecoming is a special moment in Texas and that a former homecoming queen crowning her successor is a tradition. She also says that Kayleigh was homeschooled during the second semester of her freshman year at high school due to the COVID pandemic and didn’t return to school until her senior year. “For her to come back and win [the title of homecoming queen], it's kind of a big deal," she explains.
Kayleigh previously told CBS affiliate KHOU that she hopes that the school district will have a change of heart, saying, "I do want to go and I want to be able to see everybody, see my friends, see my family, see my old friends from school, my old teachers.”
Since the phone call from Kayleigh’s former high school principal last week, Vasquez tells PEOPLE she has not heard from school officials and feels that the school district is dismissing the situation. She is considering pursuing action in the matter “because you literally ruined a big memory of my daughter's,” referring to the school district’s move.
“I have a good kid. She's going to college for nursing," she adds. "You literally ruined this for her.”
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