Parents of year 10 students at Mackellar Girls School in Manly Vale are outraged that their daughters were denied from participating on stage in their graduation ceremony this week after school staff banned them due to having acrylic nails and other minor transgressions.
Numerous parents contacted Manly Observer after the ceremony, angered by the decision, which allegedly saw around 70 or half of the graduating students denied access to the stage to receive their certificates. Some were eventually allowed in but sent to the back of the hall and there were two classrooms of students denied access to the graduation despite their parents waiting to watch them take the stage. The school said most of those held back were due to lateness, but the parents say otherwise.
Manly Observer broke the story last night on its social media page and instagram – though it was earlier trending on a closed social media group Northern Beaches Mums, both posts attracting significant attention from other irate parents.
One upset parent, Sophie Cole, told the Manly Observer through tears yesterday after the graduation that her daughter Eva and scores of other girls were told they would not be participating in the ceremony because of the breach to the dress code. Most of the breaches related to clear, acrylic nails they were wearing because they had just had their school formal and many were to attend the Bally Boys formal later.
Sophie said during the event the girls were kept in a classroom separate to the main hall and were not even acknowledged during the ceremony.
“We were absolutely not late,” she said.
“My daughter had been told in a previous email that in order to walk the stage for the graduation ceremony girls couldn’t have unnaturally covered nails,” Ms Cole said. Manly Observer has seen the communciation that reminds students that brightly coloured nails and fake eyelashes are forbidden.
“Their Year 10 formal was last Thursday and they did get fake nails put on but it was a French polish, which is a natural nail colour with a white tip on the end. She got that done as she was aware that there might be push back on graduation day (for any other type of nail).
“Eva called me saying I’m not allowed to walk on the stage because they don’t like my nails. I’m in a classroom with a whole bunch of girls and we’re not allowed to go up onto the stage.”
“We arrived at school expecting the graduation to go ahead. We all sat down and then kind of simultaneously a bunch of parents all got phone calls from their daughters. Eva called me saying I’m not allowed to walk on the stage because they don’t like my nails. I’m in a classroom with a whole bunch of girls and we’re not allowed to go up onto the stage.”
Ms Cole said she was not provided with an explanation by school staff regarding the decision and parents were left to console their daughters after the ceremony had ended.
“No one told us anything no one apologised. We were already pretty irate but no one wanted to talk to us. And so I said to Eva, you know what, just grab your bag and we’re going to go. And she was just in floods of tears.
“Eva has had a pretty difficult year and the fact that she has gotten through Year 10 and completed her course work and gone to school every day, and to have that graduation denied just made me absolutely furious that they can deny a child that really important moment based on their nails.
“It just felt cruel.”
Ms Cole said the school had a reputation for being strict with students but the harshness of this decision still came as a surprise.
Another parent, Anita Heytman, told Manly Observer that parents were forced to wait for over an hour as the school “disciplined” the girls about their nails.
“The girls had their year 10 formal on Thursday night, and the majority are attending the Bally boys formal on Tuesday night, so they have had their nails done which were hardly offensive,” she said.
“All these girls ostracized, parents taking time off work to see their daughter’s graduate. Are they actually allowed to do this? Education seems more important than nails!”
Another parent shared their frustration on the record, with scores more sharing their anger privately with our reporting team.
“Parents were encouraged to attend to celebrate their daughter’s accomplishments but my daughter was not given the chance to celebrate her awards amongst her peers.
“Year 10 is meant to be a year of reflection and celebration of the past four years. Having the year end on such a sour note is extremely disheartening, given the disruption of COVID and remote learning. Not making an allowance for such an event, just shows how out of touch the school is.
“I strongly encourage parents to voice their concerns. I feel so strongly about this that I am wanting to look to get a petition going. I think it is time for parents and students alike to push back.”
The Department of Education played down the issue, claiming only around 20 girls were excluded from the ceremony by being made to sit at the back of the hall because of violations to the dress code (including fake nails). They confirmed their were about 57 students held elsewhere who were excluded but that the school had informed them this was due to their lateness.
On behalf of the school, a Department of Education spokeswoman who said:
“We understand some students and parents are upset by the decision of the school, however all Mackellar Girls students and parents were given written and verbal advice on the expectations around uniform and behaviour on multiple occasions since the start of the school year.”
“This included specific advice to students and parents that acrylic nails were not acceptable at school and in particular for the Year 10 assembly.
“Around 20 of 239 Year 10 students at the school did not receive their portfolio on stage for this reason but were in the hall for the assembly.”
But Anita Heytman said the year 10 graduation was meant to start at 9.15am, and all the parents were waiting from 9am. “The ceremony did not start till 10.15 as they were disciplining the girls about their nails,” she said.
Another parent said the Year 10 Graduation ceremony was “meant to be a time of enjoyment and celebration for year 10 students at Mackellar Girl Campus congratulating 11 years of schooling thus far.”
“But over 57 students were denied their right to walk on stage or even receive their award, instead punished, because of painted nails or extensions from their year 10 formal 3 nights beforehand. The nails on students were barely noticeable and extremely natural..”
“Mackellar Girls Campus have made it clear now many times that students appearance matters more to them then education, all in the name of ‘reputation’ subsequently damaging it at the same time.”
Update: We have now seen an email from Principal Christine Del Gallo to parents to say they will “revisit” the “matters of concern at the event” while maintaining that “withholding of the portfolios happened in line with the well-publicized school uniform policy.”