Jessica Urbina (left) in tuxedo she wore for senior class picture at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prepatory courtesy of her brother, Michael Urbina. Students at Sacred Heart wear ties to school in support of Jessica. May 16, 2014
A San Francisco Catholic school apologized Monday for leaving a senior's photo out of the yearbook because she had worn a tuxedo in it, admitting that it had made the wrong decision.
The school's mea culpa came after friends, classmates and strangers had rallied around Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory student Jessica Urbina, 18, with a campaign of support via neckties, bowties and the Twitter hashtag #JessicasTux.
Jessica's senior portrait – which shows her smiling in a black tux and white shirt – had been excluded from the Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory yearbook because it violated the school's dress code policy for senior portraits in yearbooks, the school's principal and president said.
"We believe that decision, while conforming with our policy, was wrong," they said in their letter.
On Friday, after a brief but intense campaign by Jessica's friends and family, the school ended up saying that in future years, the dress code policy for senior portraits – boys in ties and girls in "drapes" – would be changed.
School president John F. Scudder Jr. and principal Gary Cannon took a step further with their open letter Monday promising to work to become more inclusive of gay and lesbian students, as well as to become more supportive of all students' expressions of their genders.
"We are an imperfect community that can and does fail," they wrote. "We are a community that strives to grow, improve and do what is right. We are a community that sees, in all situations, an opportunity to learn."
"While there are those who want to make this situation an example of problems with Catholicism, we want to be clear that this letter, our apology, and our decisions moving forward come not in spite of our Catholicism, but precisely because of it," they said in their letter.
Jessica was not available for immediate comment Monday, though she said Friday that she had never felt so much love and support for her friends, many of whom started a hashtag campaign on Twitter and showed up in ties to school to support her.
Everyone read this! This may not have happened without all of the attention you brought to it! You all made a change! http://t.co/P5Uh2e7edU
— JessicasTux (@JessicasTux) May 19, 2014
— Jean Podrasky (@JeanPodrasky) May 18, 2014
Reached by phone on Monday, her brother, Michael Urbina, declined comment, though he tweeted out the school's apology letter. He had originally said he was told Thursday by someone from the school that his sister's image had been "altered" in some way, though he didn't give specifics.
The school letter gives a little insight into what happened. According to Scudder and Cannon, Jessica and her parents were told that anyone who didn't conform to the school's previous dress code policy wouldn't have his or her portrait included in the portrait section of the yearbook.
Still, "it was clear that the school had not adequately communicated to Jessica or her parents the decision made several months ago regarding senior portraits," their letter said.
"Given the nature of this specific case, however, we believe that decision, while conforming with our policy, was wrong. Moreover, the lack of communication with the family led to even greater anguish as it proved unexpected to the student and family as it came at the very end of the school year," they said.
School administrators said they decided to reprint the yearbook to include Jessica’s photo in the portrait section. But Jessica's family suggested that because of the "love and support" shown by her schoolmates over these last few days, Jessica and her family did not want students to wait to receive their yearbooks.
Rather than reprinting the yearbooks, therefore, they have suggested "other methods" to include Jessica’s senior portrait that will allow students to receive the book this week, as scheduled. Just what those methods are haven't been immediately revealed.