LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — A Maryland mom is feeling a mixture of happiness and disappointment after she says it took public outcry to get her deceased daughter’s high school to allow her classmates to honor her memory at graduation.
Christine McComas’s daughter, Grace, would have graduated this May from Glenelg High School in Howard County. But she committed suicide two years ago, as a 15-year-old sophomore, after being subjected to extreme cyber bullying.
The case was widely publicized, and Grace is the namesake of a state law geared toward the prevention of cyber bullying that took effect in October.
When a group of Grace’s friends brought up the idea of wearing blue ribbons for Grace on their gowns at graduation, the principal denied the request, McComas says. But she wasn’t exactly surprised.
In the past, when ideas for honoring Grace’s memory with t-shirts or a memorial page in the yearbook came up, school officials said they did not want to “glorify” suicide, she said.
Grace’s individual photo was even left out of the yearbook the year that she died.
So denying the ribbon idea was par for the course, as far as McComas was concerned.
“This was their classmate and they have been denied the ability to grieve for her and honor her,” McComas says. “It’s extremely painful to have them act like she never existed… if she had died in a car accident or had cancer or anything else it would have been handled differently.”
But the Howard County Public Schools System changed its tune last week, after McComas said Grace’s classmates took a stand. HCPS released this statement Friday:
HCPSS joins the family and friends of Grace McComas in the grieving process, understanding that it is ongoing and particularly difficult during milestones in students’ lives such as graduation. Our graduation procedures manual states that items worn on caps and robes are limited to academic achievements. We believe there are other visible and meaningful ways to express remembrance of students who have passed. The school system has reached out to the McComas family to consider options such as the awarding of a posthumous diploma and a scholarship from the Glenelg High School Active Minds student organization in Grace’s name. In addition, school administrators are working to engage students in these efforts and have approved the wearing of wristbands in Grace’s favorite color during the graduation ceremony. The school system does not want our collective desire to honor Grace to be overshadowed by a debate around the method, which distracts from her memory. If the McComas family indicates that they would prefer for students to wear blue ribbons, the school system will honor this request.
But, as McComas wrote on a memorial Facebook page that she runs for Grace, she believes the statement was “a sly attempt to avoid controversy and transparency.”
She says calls to her family were only made after it was clear that people were upset about the matter and that the press had gotten wind of the story.
Nearly 2,000 people also signed a Change.org petition that was created for the cause.
“…we should all be seriously concerned at the less-than-candid public responses from the school system, which suggested that they were waiting to discuss plans with our family before making decisions. This is simply FALSE,” she wrote.
But even as she expresses her disappointment in school administrators, she thanks those who put pressure on them to change their minds.
“I never dreamed that so many would rise to make their voices heard on this,” she wrote on Facebook Sunday. “We are deeply grateful.”